BERLIN: Olympic discus champion Robert Harting is Germany’s version of the ‘The Incredible Hulk’ — and he has sharp words for anyone who makes him angry.
The 31-year-old’s trademark celebration after his numerous victories on the big stage is to rip his competition shirt to tatters.
His jersey-tearing joy saw the UK media dub him ‘The Incredible Harting’, albeit minus the green look, when he won gold at the 2012 Olympics.
At 2.01m, the German giant has been a force on the discus scene having won three consecutive world titles from 2009 and 2013, plus the London Olympic title four years ago.
And, as International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach discovered recently, you do not want to make him angry.
Harting has long been a critic of his countryman and has no qualms about speaking his mind.
When the IOC opted not to blanket ban all Russian athletes from the Rio Olympics, despite evidence of a state-led doping system, Harting let the IOC president have both barrels.
“As far as I am concerned he is part of the doping system, not the anti-doping system. I am ashamed of him,” Harting told reporters.
“I have often expressed my disappointment in Thomas Bach, but this is a new dimension of disappointment.”
Harting has never been afraid to make a stand.
In 2014, the German had himself removed from the list of candidates for world athlete of the year, in protest against the nomination of US sprinter Justin Gatlin, who has twice been banned from athletics over positive drug tests.
Injury saw him miss the entire 2015 season with injury and he has struggled with knee and shoulder problems this season.
He says he is no longer the favourite, with Poland’s Piotr Malachowski arriving in Rio as the world champion, — a state of affairs Harting enjoys.
– Hunted turned hunter –
“In 2012 I was at a totally different, much higher level. I have to accept that,” Harting told SID, an AFP subsidiary.
“I am no longer the hunted, now I’m the hunter — I like that.
“The other boys haven’t seen me on the big stage for a while, I’m a factor they can’t control, that is my advantage.
“I’ll give it my all and have never had the thought ‘what if?’, that just costs energy.”
Harting loves a challenge and thrives on pressure.
When the 2009 world championships were held at Berlin’s Olympic Stadium, which he regards as his home turf, he was in his element.
His long-time rival Malachowski threw 68.77m with his opening throw and extend his lead with 69.15m on his fifth and penultimate throw.
Enter Harting, who saved his best for last by launching a personal best of 69.43m to win the gold with his final throw.
Harting’s shirt did not stand a chance as he ripped it to shreds in euphoric celebration and the Berlin crowd lapped it up.
Having finished fourth at the Beijing Olympics, Harting got a monkey off his back by winning the 2012 Olympic title which he says made him a ‘complete athlete’.
But four years on and the wrong side of 30, the German knows this is likely to be his last crack at another Olympic medal.
“Life will go one without a gold medal,” he said.
“The pressure to perform before London was terrible.
“I have always said the last six weeks of training are always my strongest, we’ll see whether it will be enough.
“Of course, I want to win gold, but I had it once and I know how quickly the medal loses it’s shine.”