Yaroslava Mahuchikh could have scarcely envisaged such a tortuous path to a major championships but the Ukrainian retained her shape and regained her composure amid near unimaginable circumstances to win a poignant high jump gold at the World Athletics Indoor Championships in Belgrade on Saturday (19).
After a three day journey from war torn Ukraine to Belgrade which she described as “hundreds of phone calls, many changes of direction, explosions, fires, and air raid sirens,” Mahuchikh soared over a world lead of 2.02m on her first attempt to put the gold medal beyond the grasp of her Australian challenger Eleanor Patterson.
Mahuchikh was one of only six Ukrainian athletes who were able to make the journey to the Serbian capital. Despite arriving in Belgrade early last week, Mahuchikh still understandably harboured doubts about her ability to perform but with the support of her long-time coach Tetiana Stepanova, Mahuchikh dispelled her doubts to win the title, adding six centimetres to her season’s best in the process.
“I even doubted that I could jump at all, but my coach said I must go out and perform with the shape and fitness I had before the start of the Russian invasion,” said Mahuchikh with the Ukrainian flag draped around her shoulders.
An uncharacteristic early failure at 1.92m left Mahuchikh playing catch-up as Patterson and Kazakhstan’s Nadezhda Dubovitskaya both recorded clear cards through until 1.95m and 1.98m respectively. Mahuchikh would go on to show more prodigious form at the higher heights in the final.
She kept herself in title contention by clearing 1.98m on her first attempt with Patterson, who led the world list beforehand with 1.99m and was considered by many as the favourite for this title in Belgrade, needing two attempts at this height.
With three women left in the competition at 2.00m, Dubovitskaya was the first of the triumvirate to exit the competition while Patterson seized the initiative by clearing this height for the first time in her career on her second attempt, also constituting a one centimetre improvement on her world lead.
Mahuchikh had already registered two failures at this height but the 20-year-old is renowned for her third attempt exploits and she matched Patterson with a clutch third-time clearance at 2.00m before stamping her authority on the competition with a technically brilliant and dynamic first-time clearance at 2.02m.
Having failed once at 2.02m, Patterson eschewed her two remaining attempts but a five centimetre improvement on her previous lifetime best proved beyond the Australian who had to settle for silver behind Mahuchikh.
Ahead of the championships, Mahuchikh said she wanted “not just to win here” and the reigning European indoor champion came tantalisingly close to clearing 2.04m on her second attempt, only dislodging the crossbar with a slight brush of her ankles.
“My goal for these championships was not just to win but to improve my season's best and maybe my personal best. The first part I did it, but the second I will postpone till the summer season,” said Mahuchikh who will now look to improve on her silver medal at the World Athletics Championships in Oregon this summer.
Montenegro's Marija Vukovic just missed out on the medals in fourth with a 1.95m clearance while Mahuchikh's teammate Iryna Herashchenko was a very creditable fifth with 1.92m.