It was 8.45am GMT on Sunday 2 July and I found myself on the phone to Paris. It was the morning after 26-year-old Mutaz Essa Barshim took first place in the IAAF Diamond League high jump competition, clearing 2.35m. Barshim, the Asian record holder with a Personal Best of 2.43m, won a silver medal at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games and is a favourite to take gold in the IAAF and IPC 2017 World Championships, which will take place in London 4-13 August. He has now joined the exclusive and talented Richard Mille family.
With ultra-light and super-robust watches, Richard Mille has become synonymous with professional sportsmen from golfer Bubba Watson to tennis legend Rafael Nadal, wearing models during tournaments. And during the 2012 London Olympics, sports- and watch-fans alike were delighted by the controversy courted by Jamaican sprinter Yohan Blake stepping onto the track wearing a Richard Mille tourbillon – something strictly forbidden by the IAAF. The watch was later released as the limited-edition RM 59-01 Yohan Blake. At last year’s Rio Olympic Games, the Richard Mille success story was repeated when South African sprinter Wayde van Niekerk triumphed in the 400m, winning gold in 43.03 seconds, while wearing his RM 27-02.
And now, as he enters the most exciting stage of his sporting career, Barshim, too, is entering into a long-term partnership with one of the watch industry’s most dedicated sporting clans: Richard Mille. To celebrate Barshim’s appearance in London for the World Championships, Richard Mille has created the RM 67-02 High Jump – a variation on the RM 67-01.
Extremely light and exceptionally robust, the main body of the watch-case is in RM’s exclusive Quartz TPT composite, which consists of layers of microscopic silica filaments impregnated with a red resin composite. The caseband is created from Carbon TPT, which is made from the same process but using carbon rather than silica fibres. The dial has been formed from a sheet of DLC-coated titanium four-tenths of a millimetre thick, which has been painted in the colours of the Qatari flag. To further reduce the weight of the watch, the strap is the latest in RM technology, seamless and flexible. Watch and strap adding up to a grand total of 32g, making the RM67-02 Richard Mille’s lightest automatic timepiece to date.
To ensure a super-thin form, the watch is powered by the new extra-flat CRMA7 calibre, which includes a Carbon TPT and white-gold rotor, and skeletonised, DLC-coated, Grade 5 titanium baseplate. The going train features an involute profiling of gears to ensure smooth transmission of power with minimal speed or torque allowing for perfect performance over a 50-hour period.
Below is one of the first interviews Barshim has given since his relationship with Richard Mille was formalised.
Mutaz, congratulations on your Diamond League win and your new partnership with Richard Mille. How did that come about?
Thank you — it’s really exciting. I first met Richard in Rio during the 2016 Olympics. He had watched the finals and told me that he loved to see me jump, that he found my style really elegant and that I made it look easy. He asked me right then and there if I would join the Richard Mille team.
Did you already have an interest in watches and did you know the Richard Mille brand?
Absolutely! I’m a big watch man — I love them. I already had a small collection and, although I didn’t yet have a Richard Mille, I was definitely on my way to owning one. It was the watch I was going to treat myself to when my career was where I wanted it to be.
Richard Mille has an eye for finding exceptional talents quite early in their careers. What do you think he saw in you that made you stand out from the crowd?
I think that — as well as the way I jump — it’s the way I interact with people. My fans are a great support and they truly motivate me. I want to give something to them in return and I want to make them happy. I think Richard saw this and when we met up in Paris a couple of months after Rio, he told me that he liked my personality. He said that at Richard Mille, outside relationships and the people the company chose to align with were incredibly important.
He genuinely believes that a family-style company is the key to success and that clients should be treated as friends — and he saw that my attitude mirrored his. I want to jump and do the best I can. I want to achieve what nobody has done before, and with that comes responsibility. I don’t want to let my supporters down, but I also know that I am not here to party and that my training has to come first.
With so many fans wanting your attention on the track, how do you block out distractions?
I just try to keep my cool. I love meeting people, travelling, seeing things but my coach keeps my feet on the ground. He tells me to forget the excitement around me and reminds me that I have to keep focused. We have great communication between us and I listen to him.
Your father was an athlete and a coach. Did he have a big impact on you?
My father is the reason I started in athletics. He was a middle-distance runner and he took me to the track when I was young. I loved it. I saw him on TV as a kid and it was amazing. That lit the flame for me, I wanted to be an athlete and my father has supported me ever since. But I wanted to do something different to him. I was 12-years-old when I first started training and, in the beginning, it was just to get to out of school but, at 16, I started to take it seriously.
It sounds like you were an all-rounder. When did you realise you could jump?
When I was 17, everything came together and I qualified for the World Indoor Championships with a jump of with 2.09m. I continued to improve and, when I graduated, I started to concentrate on sport professionally. My coach saw me dunking basketballs on court and said that, in his opinion, I could do 2.30m. I did slightly doubt him, but I started training and three months later I won the IAAF World U20 Championships — that was my breakthrough moment.
How is your form right now and what can we expect from you in London in August?
My coach is very happy with the way I am training right now and we are definitely on schedule. I feel confident. Coming to London — I want to break records and jump as high as possible. I love the challenge and the pressure — I thrive on it and it makes me work harder, jump better.
In the past Richard Mille’s athletes have broken the rules by wearing their watches on the track. Are you a rule-breaker?
I like it that they’ve done that – it’s a thing. You’ve got to create a buzz to standout. And yes, I love a bit of rule breaking – but only in a good way.
Do you have any bad habits?
I’m always travelling and I definitely don’t party hard. I need my sleep and I can’t stay up late. I am usually in my room early, at meets watching movies – I particularly love animations. That’s just me – I’m a simple guy.