Mutaz Essa Barshim celebrates his high jump victory at the IAAF World Championships London 2017 (© Getty Images)
Heading into these championships, the conventional wisdom was that the men's high jump title was Mutaz Essa Barshim's to lose. Arriving undefeated in six competitions and armed with the seven of the eight best clearances in the world, the Qatari was among the clearest favourites in the British capital over these ten days of competition.
Barshim admirably held up his end of the bargain with one of the most dominating high jump performances in recent memory to finally claim an elusive global outdoor title.
"I was so determined to win it," said Barshim, who took silver in 2013 but finished a disappointing fourth two years ago in Beijing. "I was expecting it tonight so I am glad I managed to fulfill my target tonight."
And he made it look relatively easy, too.
The 26-year-old produced a flawless score card en route to his victory, sailing clear at 2.20m, 2.25m, 2.29m, 2.32m and 2.35m all with his first attempt to seal the win, his nation's third and its first in a dozen years. Even before he took that fifth jump, the title was all but secured, with only one other man still jumping.
Indeed, it was neutral athlete Danyll Lysenko, just 20 and jumping in his first global senior championship, who would rise from the field to be Barshim's fiercest opposition.
The 2013 Youth Olympic champion topped 2.20m and 2.25m with his first attempts, 2.29 on his second, and 2.32m on his first to take control of the silver medal position. The next height, 2.35m, one centimetre better than his lifetime best, proved too high; he'll nonetheless be pleased with his second attempt which was agonisingly close.
With the competition over, Barshim had the bar raised to a would-be world lead of 2.40m, a height he's topped nine times in his career. With nothing on the line, the two-time Olympic medallist --he took bronze in this stadium five years ago and silver in Rio-- came up short but not before producing a pair of solid attempts.
"When there are good opponents, good conditions, it can go high," said Barshim, whose 2.43m Asian record from 2014 ranks him as the No. 2 high jumper of all-time. "I like a bit of pressure during the competition but when you know that you became a winner, you are just happy."
But besides Lysenko's short-lived challenge, there was none of that tonight. But there will be plenty of pressure in two years' time when Barshim will compete at the next edition in his hometown of Doha as the face of those World Championships.
For his part, Lysenko felt little pressure but admitted that some lingering pain from a recent injury to his take-off leg nearly sent him to the sidelines.
"It was very painful even in qualification but especially during my warm-up tonight," he said. "I even wanted to refuse to continue in the final but after my first attempt at 2.20m I decided that I could do something special. I was trying not to hurt my leg, so my technique was not brilliant."
For just the third time at a World Championships, 2.29m would suffice for a medal. Three men cleared with Majd Eddin Ghazal prevailing on countback to claim the men's World Championships medal ever for Syria. It was an emotional moment for the 30-year-old who lives and trains in the capital Damascus.
"Since I reached the final I have only thought about a medal," said Ghazal, who cleared a PB 2.36m last year. "Physically I was ready to jump 2.32 to 2.35, but my desire won out over mind and I pushed too hard. I lost everything in the field: the ability to think, my technique and my speed. I thought only about this medal."
Fortunately for him, that form came back on his second try at 2.29m to beat out Mexico's Edgar Rivera and German champion Mateusz Przybylko, who finished fourth and fifth respectively.
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF