Gold may have gone to Mariya Lasitskene in the women’s high jump on Monday (30) but many of the headlines around the world were captured by Ukraine’s 18-year-old silver medallist Yaroslava Mahuchikh.
Mahuchikh improved the world U20 record* not once but twice when she went over 2.02m and then 2.04m.
“A star is born,” proclaimed the serious and respected Spanish national daily newspaper El Mundo, not usually given to hyperbole, and that was typical of the huge impact she made globally.
“Moooother of God!” exclaimed the now-retired 2016 Olympic champion Ruth Beitia, her commentary for Spanish TV as Mahuchikh sailed over 2.04m going viral in Hispanic countries.
Perhaps, Beitia’s outburst was prompted by the fact that Mahuchikh had actually cleared a height two centimetres higher than the venerable Spaniard’s own national record but similar sentiments were expressed in many places and in many different languages on Monday night.
A new era
Mahuchikh consigning to history the three decades-old former mark of 2.01m held by jointly held USSR’s Olga Turchak and East Germany’s Heike Balck from 1986 and 1989 respectively – their defunct country names immediately giving away the antiquity of the record – as she also become the youngest ever IAAF World Athletics Championships field event medallist.
The teenager admitted that she had been expecting a good performance in Doha but was hardly expecting to go into new territory despite having jumped 2.00m earlier in the season at the Diamond League meeting in Eugene.
However, perhaps there is something about Doha that presses the ignite button as it should be remembered she cleared an outdoor best of 1.96m in the Khalifa International Stadium back in May. That made her the youngest ever winner of a Diamond League event while she was just 17.
“Normally I stop my competitions after I have set a personal best, so at 2.02m I might have stopped normally but I looked at my coach (Tetyana Stepanova) and I said I wanted to continue. She could see I wanted to carry on, so she let me,” explained Mahuchikh.
“The adrenaline was going at that point and I wanted to go higher. At 2.04m, after my first failure, I thought, “I can get this height” but after clearing it I wasn’t confident I could get 2.06.
“I thought it would have been a height too much and my coach did as well, and that’s why I retired even though I had cleared 2.04m on my third attempt.”
Nairobi beckons again
“I am still a junior next year so I will save that height – 2.06m – for another time, maybe next year,” added the prodigious Ukrainian, who will still be in the U20 ranks next year and will likely start as the prohibitive favourite at the IAAF World U20 Championships in Nairobi next July, the same city where she won the world U18 title in 2017.
“To be honest, I expected a good performance, I came here well prepared. But nothing like this, I didn’t believe beforehand that I would be jumping 2.04m.”
Stepanova confirmed she was the one who had suggested to Mahuchikh that she take three attempts at 2.04m when competitive convention would have suggested that, with nothing to lose and secure in second place, she would have passed after her first failure at that height and taken her further attempts at 2.06m.
It was also Stepanova who decided that Mahuchikh had had enough excitement for one day and suggested she retire after her second world U20 record.
"I wanted Yaroslava to finish the competition after clearing 2.02m but she wanted to jump at 2.04m, and I did not want to stop her. It was clear (with Lasitskene having a flawless record up to and including 2.04m) that the competition was decided so after that height I decided to not continue keeping going for it. After all, Yaroslava was only 18 just two weeks ago, on 19 September,” commented Stepanova.
Hurdles’ loss, high jump’s gain
The pair have been working together since Mahuchikh was 13 and have almost a sisterly relationship.
“I’ve been coaching her since she was so high,” added Stepanova, pointing just below her waist. She is easily spotted among the high jump coaches as she sports the same braided hairstyle as her student during competitions.
“I was a 400m hurdler and coached hurdles, and Yaroslava originally came to me to do hurdles, but it was immediately obvious that her talent was as a high jumper.
“Over the last five years or so, I’ve learnt about the event alongside her,” added Stepanova, having also guided Mahuchikh to world and European U18 titles and as well as a Youth Olympic Games gold medal last year and the European U20 crown in the Swedish town of Boras earlier this summer.
The question now is, where does Mahuchikh go from here?
Adding to her world U20 record or even attacking – obviously alongside Doha 2019 and three-time world champion Mariya Lasitskene – Stefka Kostadinova long-standing world record of 2.09m, which celebrated its 32nd birthday last month, are two obvious answers.
Also, a target now is Inga Babakova’s Ukraine record of 2.05m, which is almost as ancient as Kostadinova’s mark having been set in 1995.
However, as she grows older, Mahuchikh will face a new set of challenges.
Having just graduated from high school in Dnipro, where she was born and bred, she has enrolled at the Dnipro Higher School of Physical Education, where she will be studying physical education.
Although there is a lot of flexibility with her course work, she will have to cope with the demands of university life.
Nevertheless, as the charismatic Mahuchikh showed in Doha both during and after the competition, when she charmed the attending ranks of the media, she currently seems to be able to take everything in her stride at this stage of her young career.
Phil Minshull for the IAAF
* Subject to the usual record ratification procedures