Over the course of the next few months, we’ll profile 20 exciting prospects under the age of 20 who look primed for major athletics success in the near future.
The series kicks off with world silver medallist Yaroslava Mahuchikh, the world U20 record-holder for the high jump and World Athletics Rising Star of 2019.
When Yaroslava Mahuchikh made her first trip to Doha, she became – at 17 years, 226 days –the youngest athlete ever to win a Diamond League, soaring over an outdoor high jump PB of 1.96m.
When she returned to the Qatari capital less than five months later for the World Athletics Championships, she made history again.
Not only did she break the world U20 record with a leap of 2.04m, but she also earned a shock silver medal behind high jump queen Mariya Lasitskene.
All of a sudden, Mahuchikh’s role model had become her rival.
“If we’re speaking about high jump, I try to look at what Lasitskene does,” she says. “She has very good technique and results.”
Like many, Mahuchikh’s entry to the sport came through following her sibling’s lead. Neither of her parents was into athletics – her father did canoeing, her mother gymnastics – but older sister Anastasia was into karate and athletics. Mahuchikh wasn’t big on karate so chose to join her older sister at the local athletics club, starting out as a sprinter, hurdler and long jumper.
Her gift for high jumping wasn’t immediately apparent, Mahuchikh recalling how she was unable to get over 1.40m in her first competition. At the age of 13 she came under the tutelage of Tatyana Stepanova, a former international 400m hurdler, who to this day has guided her career with a careful hand.
Just a couple of years later, Mahuchikh started to make an impact at the international level. In 2017 she won the world U18 title in Nairobi with a PB of 1.92m and she followed it two weeks later with victory at the European Youth Olympic Festival.
She returned to Gyor, scene of her European Youth Olympic triumph one year earlier, for the 2018 European U18 Championships and one again claimed gold, upping her PB to 1.94m. Her peak for that year came when winning the Youth Olympic Games title in Buenos Aires, where she cleared 1.95m.
Although still aged only 17 for the majority of the 2019 season, she became a regular competitor on the Diamond League circuit. In between those appearances, she won the European U20 title in Boras. But once again, she timed her peak to perfection and saved her best jumps for the World Athletics Championships in Doha.
It was her record-breaking performance at Khalifa Stadium that raised her profile back in Ukraine.
“When I come back to Dnipro (her home town), people wanted to take pictures with me and congratulate me on the streets,” she says. “I was so happy that our people, our population, watched the competition and supported Ukraine.”
That status brings new demands. Over the past couple of months there have been multiple photo-shoots, a spin-off of fame that Mahuchikh is happy to embrace. In her spare time she loves sketching and writing, and she’s planning to soon start a blog. “I think it will be about my life of a sportswoman who goes to training camp,” she says. “How to live, how to train.”
Like most 18-year-olds, she’s working on her Instagram page. She’s also a huge reader of novels, her favourite being After You by British writer Jojo Moyes.
She’s been back studying since the autumn, enrolling at the Dnipro Higher School of Physical Education. “I want to be a coach, to start with children,” she says. “In our group, we have 10 girls and so I help my coach like an assistant.”
But despite all of her commitments both on track and off it, Mahuchikh appears to be taking it all in her stride.
"I think that 'I can do it, I can jump'!"— World Athletics (@WorldAthletics) January 31, 2020
18-year-old Yaroslava Mahuchikh on what goes through her mind when taking on record-breaking heights and the secret behind her success.#WorldIndoorTour pic.twitter.com/BIacaGTILh
World U20 all-time list, high jump
2.04 Yaroslava Mahuchikh (UKR) Doha, 2019
2.01 Olga Turchak (URS) Moscow, 1986
2.01 Heike Balck (GER) Karl Marx Stadt, 1989
2.00 Stefka Kostadinova (BUL) Sofia, 1984
2.00 Alina Astafei (ROU) Sudbury, 1988
1.99 Vashti Cunningham (USA) Sacramento, 2017
1.98 Silvia Costa (CUB) Edmonton, 1983
1.98 Yelena Yelesina (URS) Nyiregyhaza, 1988
1.96 Charmaine Weavers (RSA) Bloemfontein, 1981
1.96 Svetlana Leseva (BUL) Budapest, 1986
1.96 Marina Kuptsova (RUS) Tula, 2000
1.96 Blanka Vlasic (CRO) Kingston, 2002
1.96 Airine Palsyte (LTU) Shenzhen, 2011
1.96 Eleanor Patterson (AUS) Townsville, 2013
2015: 1.55i / 1.60
2016: 1.75i / 1.76
2017: 1.84i / 1.92
2018: 1.90i / 1.95
2019: 1.99i / 2.04