WRITTEN FOR THE BRITISH ATHLETICS SAINSBURYS BIRMINGHAM GRAND PRIX & IAAF DIAMOND LEAGUE EVENT PROGRAMME
Since claiming the Olympic high jump bronze medal in London two years ago, Robbie Grabarz has struggled to recapture his best form and so in a brave move, he chose to undergo knee surgery in the spring, and he explains to Nicola Bamford that this decision was based on the hope of returning to his former glories.
The 27-year-old 2012 European champion endured a reoccurring problem in the tendon of his left take-off knee for a full year before concluding that going under the surgeon’s knife would be his best option to rectify the ongoing issue, which was severely hindering his performance on the in-field.
The joint British outdoor record holder – with a leap of 2.37m from his 2012 campaign – Grabarz made this difficult choice with the 2015, 2016 and 2017 major championship years in mind, revealing:
“I got to the point where I realised my year was going nowhere as my knee was giving me too much agro so I went to see the physio in Loughborough to investigate, and as
I knew I wouldn’t be able to compete at my strongest.
“I opted to see the surgeon only two days later – I saw Hakan Alfredson in Sweden for my consultation and spent six days recovering over there.
“Deciding to have the op was the best decision to make in order for me to have an uninterrupted 2015 and beyond. It was a tough call to make but it was a logical decision.”
Having had the surgery on the 19th of May, Grabarz admitted that going through the procedure was not as easy as deciding to have it:
“I knew my problem couldn’t get any worse but I’m petrified of needles and because I was only under a local anaesthetic, I made them put a screen up so I couldn’t see the procedure and I used my ipad as a distraction.
“I was crutches within an hour and within six days, I had full range of movement so I could walk within two weeks.
“It was pretty boring at times – I had to lie in bed for a week with my leg up but at my last meeting, the consultant said I was two weeks ahead of my rehab schedule.”
Guided by Fuzz Ahmed – the senior national institute coach for vertical jumps at British Athletics – at their Birmingham base, Grabarz is determined to get back to his superb form of two summers ago.
A four-time British champion, the Newham and Essex Beagles athlete started 2012 with a sixth place finish at the IAAF World Indoor Championships in Istanbul before moving onto enjoy his finest season to date.
In addition to his Olympic bronze and continental title in Helsinki – with heights of 2.29m and 2.31m, respectively – Grabarz took the prestigious IAAF Diamond League trophy courtesy of victory in the Rome and Birmingham meets, as well as second place finishes in New York, Monaco, Zurich and Crystal Palace, and a third place position in Lausanne where he equalled Steve Smith’s twenty-year-old national record.
After such a stellar campaign, Grabarz found it understandably quite difficult to jump below his best indoors and out in 2013.
Placing sixth at the European Indoor Championships in Gothenburg, he finished only eighth in the IAAF World Championships in Moscow in the summer and ended the season with an average 2.31m best.
But it was the 2014 indoor season which was to be his lowest ebb, as the Essex-born athlete failed to qualify for the final of the IAAF World Indoor Championships in Sopot and reached no higher than 2.27m during the winter.
“The 2014 indoor season was ok but it was a failure in missing out on the championships final. I tried to manage everything I could to avoid having surgery – I kept pushing on but in the end, it was unmanageable,” Grabarz explained.
“2013 wasn’t what I hoped but I wasn’t too disappointed in it. I missed the European Team Championships (in Gateshead) to let the knee heal, which was frustrating.
“It was my choice not to say anything last summer even though I was hurting as I knew it wasn’t causing any trauma and it would mean accepting defeat if I said anything.
“You can’t perform and win in my event if you’re not 100% and I couldn’t keep tricking myself into feeling better than I was.”
Now – fourteen weeks since his stint on the operating table – Grabarz is satisfied with how his rehabilitation is progressing, namely assisted by regular visits to his medical team at the Loughborough High Performance Centre courtesy of the support from British Athletics and the World Class Performance Programme.
Grabarz credits soft tissue masseur Derry Suter, physiotherapist Shane Kelly, British Athletics chief medical officer Rob Chakraverty and Rachael Walker – his “go-to lady who sorts everything out for me at the drop of a hat” as the key aides in his return from injury.
“Everyone’s been really supportive from British Athletics and my sponsors – adidas and Reflex Nutrition,” he revealed.
“They’ve supported my decisions and have been brilliant. The speed of help from British Athletics has really impressed me – to have surgery within six days and to have the top medical team on tap – it’s a fabulous system in place.”
On his daily rehab programme, Grabarz continued:
“I’ll get up and do some form of abdominal exercises at home, travel to Loughborough and catch up with the guys in my team.
“I’d sit with the physio in the gym and do my rehab exercises then have a check-over massage, some physio and let the docs do their job.
“I’m having a breakthrough each week in my improvement and I’m getting to the point where I’ve forgotten I’ve had surgery. The exercises are working so I’m happy.
“I don’t have to rush back as I was near my top fitness when I had the surgery as I was getting ready for the outdoor season, so I want I want to be fully fit for my comeback. It’s a more pleasant experience than it could have been.”
With men’s global high jumping arguably enjoying its richest vein of form in 2014, it is understandably a frustrating year for Grabarz to watch from the side-lines but he admits that it is a great source of motivation also:
“It’s such a shame not to be involved in the most exciting event at the moment – I’m gutted but it’s given me a fresh love for it again, I can’t wait to be back competing,” said Grabarz.
“I should be in with these guys – they’re feeding off each other and I’ve got the same talent, it’s just a shame I’ve got to delay it by a year.”
Although disappointed to forgo Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games recently and the opportunity to defend his European title in Zurich earlier this month, Grabarz – who tied the marital knot earlier this month – is still positively looking forward to his 2015 comeback:
“It’s an exciting horizon – the reason you go through rehab is to get ready for the big championships and to do what you love,” he explained.
“I’ve thought about doing the indoors but I’ll gauge how my body’s feeling and focus on training for the outdoors, but I’m hopeful that if we can, we will.
“I just want to come back in great shape by training smart and I want to get back into the battle for medals and at crazy heights.
“I’m not expecting 2.40m in my first competition but it would be nice in my first season back. My body’s not too far away from the shape it was in – I’m feeling strong.”