“I think I just found this feeling and I found the way to do well in the final”, Guowei Zhang said after his immaculate – and characteristically exuberant – performance in today’s men’s high jump qualification. He had just proved that the home crowd’s high hopes of him were not misplaced by being one of the only two jumpers to reach the qualifying height of 2.31 without any failures, the other being Canada’s Commonwealth champion Derek Drouin.
Both giants of the world’s high jump – Qatar’s world indoor champion MutazEssa Barshim and Ukraine’s defending champion Bohdan Bondarenkoneeded more than one attempt on 2.29.
“I’m going to need wings in Sunday’sfinal”, Bondarenkoadmitted.
Barshim’s coach, StanislawSzczyrba, is well place to evaluate the Chinese challenge to his charge’s medal prospects.
“Zhang is a big threat, very dangerous, and not only because he’s very motivated jumping in his home country,” said Szczyrba. “He’s been very consistent in his development from what I saw. His behavior may seem a little ridiculous sometimes, but this is how he is.”
It’snot only his results that have gained him media attention around the world. He’s been quite emotional about his jumping, roaring and tearing his shirts after most successful attempts, something very unusual for Chinese.
He insists that outside the stadium remains very quiet or even boring. “I never go out, I could stay at home for the entire week watching TV and playing video games. And no matter what I’m in bed every night at 21.30 because I need my sleep and this is what agrees with my nature”, he says.
Zhang, who holds the Chinese indoor record of 2.33m, has competed on the global circuit for a couple of years now but 2015 has been his breakthrough season.
In May he improved his personal best to 2.38 at the Eugene IAAFDiamond League meeting. That’ sonly one centimeter shy of the Chinese record set 31 years ago by Zhu Jianhua, who remains a great role model for Zhang.
The two men have never talked or met, but Zhang has a picture of his predecessor hanging in his dormitory room.
“I hope for a podium finish in Beijing also to pay tribute toZhu Jianhua, who took the bronze back in 1983 in the first edition of IAAF world championships in Helsinki”, Zhang said.
A month after that achievement, Zhang earned victory over a field including all the leading competitors, including Barshim, Bondarenko and Russia’sOlympic champion Ivan Ukhov, in cold and windy conditions at the Oslo DiamondLeague meeting, a victory he greeted with some high energy activity in on the landing bed,
Needless to say, competing at a global championship in his home city is special for Zhang. The Chinese meaning of his first name, Guowei, is “the one to show greatness to the country”. World Championships held in Bird’s Nest Stadium seems like the perfect opportunity to achieve his nominal destiny.
“I don’t think my parents were thinking about it that much when they chose the name for me,” he said. “But now I feel it’s my duty to take Chinese high jump to the highest level in front of my home crowd. That is my understanding.”
Zhang didn’t take up the high jump until he was 15, having tried all different sports before including football, table tennis, and long jump.
“Why don’t you try high jump?”, he was asked one day by his coach. He did and he cleared 1.70 in the first competition he entered. He needed only one year of training to reach 2.00.
And he soon proved that he could handle the big occasion having made significant improvements in big events, including qualifying rounds of Daegu 2011 IAAF World Championships, where he set his then PB at 2.31.
Now his aim is to be the first man of his race to reach the height of 2.40. And with his steady progress, he may soon be joining the elite group of high jumpers challenging the world record of2.45 set by Javier Sotomayor in 1993 (the longest standing in high jump history).
“I’ve been following Barshim and Bondarenko rivalry and also other guys who excel in the high jump. I’m sure watching them helps me as I try to learn from them”, Zhang says.
The Award Ceremony for high jumpers is planned for 20.45 on Sunday night. So he’ll be able to make it to bed on time.