Sasha Zhoya has already made some big decisions in his young career.
Born in Perth, Australia to a French mother and a Zimbabwean father, Zhoya had his pick of three countries to represent internationally. After a year of weighing up the respective pros and cons, the 17-year-old recently made a much-talked about decision to compete for France over his country of birth and he is expected to make his international debut at the World U20 Championships in Nairobi this July.
But don’t be too surprised to see Zhoya competing in the Charlety Stadium at the Paris 2020 European Athletics Championships in late August as well. Those who have observed the first chapter of his career first hand have described his potential as limitless and comparisons to Usain Bolt have been readily made in both the Australian and French newspapers.
'I have never seen talent like this in my lifetime, it is very rare, this type of talent,” said six metre-plus Australian pole vaulter-turned coach Paul Burgess. “The sky is the limit for Sasha. As long as he keeps his head in the game, he has certainly got all the talent he would need to take his career where he wants to go.”
Former Commonwealth 400m champion and Olympic 4x400m silver medallist John Steffenson has been equally effusive in his praise. “Right now, whatever he wants to achieve, he will achieve, it’s up to him. There’s no ceiling,” he said.
But what really stands out about Zhoya according to his principal sprint coach in Australia - Lindsay Bunn - is his work ethic. “A lot of people say he’s a brilliant talent but the reality is he has as much talent as a number of young athletes,” he said. “The difference is Sasha works so hard.”
Zhoya was a highly active youngster, trying his hand at a range of both winter and summer sports before setting on athletics. He began to take athletics seriously from the age of 13 before enrolling at the Western Australian Institute of Sport when he was 14, setting numerous records and winning accolades in the ensuing years since then.
“I have always loved sports and played as many of them as I could growing up - basketball, soccer, ice hockey, skiing - but it was my older sister, Munashe, who got me into track and field,” said Zhoya.
Zhoya’s mother Christine is a former international skier and Sasha credits her for instilling him with his innate competitive streak. His father is a musician which Sasha says is where he gets his rhythm from. Alongside three part-time jobs, Zhoya has enrolled in a specialist dance academy and he credits the programme for helping to improve his coordination, strength and agility.
“I have no doubt that my athleticism makes me a better dancer, and my dance makes me a better athlete,' he said. “To me, they are a fine complement of each other.”
On the track, Zhoya left an indelible mark on both sides of the equator - not to mention the record books - last year. Competing at the Australian U20 Championships in Sydney last April, Zhoya eclipsed Emmanouil Karalis’ world U18 best in the pole vault with a 5.56m clearance and another record-breaking performance in a different event followed just over three months later.
Sasha was the main attraction at the French U18 Championships in Angers last July when he smashed the world U18 best in the 110m hurdles, skimming over the 91.4cm hurdles in 12.87 to win by almost one clear hurdle and slash more than one-tenth off the record held by his French compatriot Wilhem Belocian.
That time. And that winning margin.— European Athletics (@EuroAthletics) July 6, 2019
Sasha Zhoya smashed the world U18 best in the 110m hurdles (91.4cm) with 12.87 at the French Championships.
He also holds the world U18 best in the pole vault with 5.56m!pic.twitter.com/qmodLYiPWP
Zhoya returned to the track the following day to upstage the sprint specialists in the 200m final, winning the title in a wind-aided 20.81 and both of his wind legal lifetime bests in the sprints - 10.41 in the 100m and 20.91 in the 200m - ranked inside the top 10 globally at U18 level in 2019. His range of talents extend to the combined events and Zhoya won the Australian U18 decathlon title last January with 7271 points.
Zhoya finished last year ranked inside the top ten globally across five different events at U18 level so it is scarcely surprising the dual French-Australian citizen has been in such demand from both parties. Among other factors, Zhoya said the lure of competing for France at the 2024 Olympic Games was difficult to resist and Sasha has all of the requisite components to help him to fulfil his sporting ambitions.
One day after setting a world U18 best in the 110m hurdles, Sasha Zhoya won the 200m at the French U18/U20 Championships in a wind-aided 20.81. pic.twitter.com/tj7lneyUI1— European Athletics (@EuroAthletics) July 7, 2019
Zhoya will continue to train in Clermont-Ferrand under the tutelage of Philippe d’Encausse - the coach of world record-holder and 2012 Olympic champion Renaud Lavillenie - specifically for the pole vault but Zhoya will also attend the prestigious INSEP Academy in Paris. Former world champion Ladji Doucouré will help Sasha to further his hurdling and Dimitri Demoniere will guide him in the sprints. 'He is talent but there is still room to improve,' said Demoniere.
Having already made one career defining-decision this year, Zhoya is keenly aware he has another one to make in the not too distant future when he has to choose which event to specialise in.
'I've got absolutely zero clue at the moment,” he admitted in an interview last year when asked about his future. “It depends on how my body progresses and how I progress.”
110m hurdles (91.4cm) 12.87
110m hurdles (99.1cm) 13.84
Pole vault 5.56m
U18 decathlon 7271 points