High jump champion Yaroslava Mahuchikh at the World Athletics Indoor Championships Belgrade 22 (© Getty Images)
It took Ukraine’s Yaroslava Mahuchikh three days to travel overland from her war-ravaged home country to Serbia; and in athletics terms her journey to her first global gold at the World Athletics Indoor Championships Belgrade 22 was as arduous, taking just short of two hours.
The 20-year-old had said before this event that she wanted to show strength on behalf of her beleaguered people and that she did as she came from behind to withstand the courageous challenge of Australia’s Eleanor Patterson and earn victory with a clearance of 2.02m.
Patterson, who had cleared a personal best of 2.00m to remain in contention for gold before passing after a first failure at 2.02m, was unable to convert either of her two efforts at the next height of 2.04m.
That offered Ukraine’s outdoor world silver medallist and Olympic bronze medallist the opportunity of flying the flag of which she had dreamed.
“I didn’t think I was doing it for myself or my medal, I was doing it for all the Ukrainian nation,” said Mahuchikh. “I want to show Ukrainian people are strong people. They never give up. Our military protect our country at home and today I protect my country on the track."
Before competing, the 20-year-old had recalled how on 24 February she had woken up in her home in Ukraine to the sound of explosions. She was forced to flee her home town of Dnipro – around 300 miles away from Kyiv – and head into the countryside.
She prepared to compete in Belgrade and was able to do so after arriving in the Serbian capital following a three-day car journey.
“I was very confident at the low heights, but after two fails at 2.00m I had to focus only on my jumping,” added Mahuchikh, who will next travel to Germany.
“I had the same situation at the World Championships in 2019 (where she took silver). Today, though, my motivation to do each height was very different."
Mahuchikh had called this event her own “front line” and she found the way to achieve the most profound and emotional of victories.
For Patterson, Commonwealth champion at 18 in 2014, who “fell out of love” with high jumping in 2018, but then rediscovered her previous affection to good effect, there was also huge kudos.
Having arrived in Belgrade leading the 2022 world list after her 1.99m personal best in Banka Bystrica last month, she maintained herself in gold medal contention and a second-time clearance of 2.00m had sent her onwards in search of gold.
Only three athletes were in the medal mix at that point – Mahuchikh, Patterson and Kazakhstan’s Nadezhda Dubovitskaya.
The Ukrainian, whose failure to clear 1.92m first time had hindered her progress to gold on countback, was one jump away from bowing out with bronze before she cleared 2.00m at her third attempt.
Dubovitskaya took bronze at that point after failing to clear what was her personal best height as her two rivals moved on up in the challenge for victory.
In the first three rounds of jumping up to 1.92m it was Mahuchikh’s team-mate Iryna Gerashchenko, who took European indoor silver behind her last year with an indoor best of 1.98m before finishing fourth at the Tokyo Olympics, who was in the vanguard along with Patterson and Dubovistskaya.
After coming in with a first-time clearance at 1.88m, Mahuchikh had one failure at 1.92m before nailing it, which left her in fourth place.
Three others remained in contention at that point – Marija Vukovic of Montenegro, Italy’s Elena Vallortigara and Safina Sadullayeva.
As the bar rose to 1.95m, however, the tournament flipped as a first-time clearance established Mahuchikh in first place - although she was swiftly down to third on countback as Patterson and Dubovitskaya also cleared immediately - but her compatriot was unable to progress any further.
So Patterson, Dubovitskaya, Mahuchikh and Vukovic remained in contention, in that order, at 1.98m.
Mahuchikh was first up – and registered another first-time clearance to put her rivals under pressure.
How would they react?
Vukovic blinked with a first failure. Patterson, facing a height that was only 1cm below the personal best with which she led the 2022 season’s list, also failed in her first attempt.
But Dubovitska rose to the challenge to maintain her faultless progression and move on to the next height of 2.00m in the gold medal position.
By that point the medallists were known, as Vukovic failed to progress. The final drama was to come.
Sixteen-year-old home jumper Angelina Topic – whose mother Biljana was the 2009 world triple jump bronze medallist and whose father Dragutin won world indoor high jump bronze in 1997 – enjoyed her senior international debut as she cleared 1.88m but found 1.92m just beyond her.
There was early disappointment for Britain’s Emily Borthwick, who has a personal best of 1.95m from last year but who failed to negotiate the bar at 1.84m.
Mike Rowbottom for World Athletics
|WOMEN'S HIGH JUMP MEDALLISTS
|Yaroslava Mahuchikh 🇺🇦 UKR
|Eleanor Patterson 🇦🇺 AUS
|Nadezhda Dubovitskaya 🇰🇿 KAZ