Gold medal-winning high jumper Mutaz Essa Barshim, who helped design Richard Mille’s RM 67-02 High Jump, tells Ajeng G. Anindita why wearing his favourite timepiece makes gives him feel more powerful and confident
It’s not every day you get the chance to meet one of the world’s greatest high jumpers. Watching athletes competing in a stadium is one thing, but often you can only see tiny dots in the field, running and jumping.
When Prestige met Mutaz Essa Barshim face to face at the Richard Mille boutique in Plaza Indonesia, the impressive young athlete was recovering from an ankle injury, hence his absence as a competitor from the 2018 Asian Games. But he still came to Jakarta to support and, in his words, “temporarily coach” his fellow Qatari athletes.
Barshim’s name means “proud” in Arabic, and his nation has every right to be pleased with this 27-year-old athlete. He went home with a gold medal from the 2017 World Championships in London, thanks to a winning leap of 2.35 metres. The previous year, he won a silver medal at the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. That success followed a bronze medal win at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
Seeing Barshim perform magnificently in 2016 inspired Richard Mille to work together with him on creating the RM 67-02 High Jump. Light and airy, comfortable to wear, the watch is an update of the RM 67-01. It has a sports element thanks to the strap’s entirely seamless non-slip and hyper elastic qualities. Wearing his signature hat and exuding a casual personal style, Barshim talked exclusively to Prestige about his life as an athlete – and what it means to have become a part of the Richard Mille family.
Have you always been interested in watches?
Always. I love fashion and I love watches, definitely. I’m a collector, you can say. And I knew so much about the brand before being introduced, or being a part of this family. So I have a good background about it.
What do you like the most about timepieces?
A lot! Before I got to be a part of the brand, what I like about it so much is the shape, the technicality of the watch, the function. The watches are so unique, so polished, so compressed and so luxurious but at the same time they’re very light. I’m not a big fan of watches that are too flashy and have so many stones on it. Most of them are heavy, you feel like this is impossible to be worn on a daily basis. Richard Mille is luxurious, but in a different way, in the style, the modification, the lightness of the watch. It has its own class. After I become a part of Richard Mille, it feels like I’m part of a family. Once you own the watch, you belong with us, we celebrate together and wherever you go we take care of you. And it’s becoming more than just a watch.
How did your collaboration with Richard Mille begin?
It was during the Rio 2016 Olympics. Richard was attending and following the competition closely; he loved the way I jumped and the way I can easily connect with the fans of this sport. The next day we got to meet and talk together a while, and he told me a lot of details about the way he works with his other ambassadors and partners. I was really impressed with everything he mentioned about the challenges of watchmaking for different sports. Afterwards he said to me that he would love to have me to join the Richard Mille family – and of course I couldn’t have been happier to do so!
How involved were you in the development of the watch?
I went back and forth with him. He designed the face, the construction, all the technicality of it, and he wanted me involved in this so he was sending pictures and asked if I was OK with everything or not. “What do you think about the cut? What shades it will be?” and so on. We talked specifically about something really light and flexible, very flat, something would not distract me from concentrating during my jumps, and I wanted it to have the colours of the Qatar flag, because I’m so proud to represent my country. It has given me so much support during the challenges I faced in reaching the World Championships and other big venues across the globe. But obviously, I didn’t have to tell him much because he’s just so good at this!
Do you wear it when you’re competing?
Yes. I got it the first time when it was ready in July 2017 and it was ahead of the World Championship in London, just 10 days before that. So they said, ‘we’re going to ship it to you and see how it feels when you jump’. Of course I was so excited, it was a big day! And then when I got it, I was so happy, it gave so much positive energy. One of the things that I love the most about this watch is that when I put it on, I almost don’t feel it, it’s very light. I jumped so well that day! It boosts my self-confidence and it just makes me feel so good. The sport part, the jump, I know how to do it. So Richard Mille takes care of the rest. For example, it’s like putting on jewellery. You might feel OK without it, but when you put them on it gives you more power, more confidence. And when I jumped at the World Championship, Richard was there too, the accumulation of everything has been so great. I was proud.
What are the common points between the watch and your discipline? Technology and performance?
My discipline requires the ultimate from me physically, because I need to be light-weight yet extremely accurate with every step I make, just like every ‘tick’ of my watch has to be. You know, my body is all the ‘tool’ I have in my sport; I don’t use a club or racket or other external materials, so what I do is very ‘pure’, just me against the challenge. I want my watch to be similar: very pure, very accurate, very perfect, yet as light as possible, and totally reliable without question.
What is the life of an Olympic athlete like?
Training, training and training. You sort of become an ambassador of your country. People look up to you and they are expecting you to do well every time. So when you got a gold medal, it doesn’t stop there, you’re not going to relax because now people are expecting the next gold from you. It’s always, what’s next? You have to find the right balance, find the time to recover. And of course, you can’t just go out and go crazy because you have this public image that people look up to. 10 years ago I could do whatever I want, I would go nude in public and nobody will care! But now, it’s going to be the biggest scandal. In my free time, which is rare, I like to watch cartoons. I’m always travelling, meeting new people and when I have a vacation, I just want to stay in my room, watch movies and be with my family. Maybe travel to somewhere calm, away from everybody in nature, just to enjoy my own company.
What medal are you looking for next?
The next one is actually a big one, it’s the World Championships and it’s going to be in Doha, Qatar, my own country. Everyone is going to be in the stadium, supporting. I just want to be sure I’m in doing the right approach, being healthy and ready to fight and make the best out of it.