Yaroslava Mahuchikh’s breakthrough season was feted at the Golden Tracks award ceremony in Tallinn, Estonia on Saturday (26) when the precociously talented Ukrainian was named women’s Rising Star, joining some illustrious company to win the award since 2007 including Jessica Ennis-Hill, Sandra Perkovic, Mariya Lasitskene and Nafissatou Thiam.
Women’s Rising Star winner: Yaroslava Mahuchikh!
— European Athletics (@EuroAthletics) October 26, 2019
Find out more about the precocious Ukrainian high jumper who opened her senior medal haul with silver in the high jump at the IAAF World Athletics Championships and is already only one centimetre shy of the national record of 2.05m which had stood since 1995.
Mahuchikh has been prolific on her assault on the record books this season. At the IAAF World Athletics Championships in Doha, Mahuchikh broke the world U20 high jump record twice – 2.02m and 2.04m – to become the youngest ever field event medallist in championship history at the age of 18 years and 11 days, displacing Heike Drechsler who won the long jump title in 1983 at 18 years and 241 days.
Mahuchikh tends to take off her spikes and put her tracksuit back on after clearing a lifetime best. She did this after equalling the world indoor U20 record with 1.99m in Hustopece – although she made an exception after clearing 2.02m in Doha. “At 2.02m I might have stopped normally but I looked at my coach and I said ‘I wanted to continue.’ She could see I wanted to carry on, so she let me,” she said.
YAROSLAVA MAHUCHIKH CLEARS 2.04M!
— European Athletics (@EuroAthletics) September 30, 2019
Prior to focusing on the high jump, Mahuchikh accompanied her older sister to karate classes. She also competed in the sprints, hurdles and long jump before eventually finding her niche in the high jump. “When I first started to compete in the high jump I didn’t achieve outstanding results – I couldn’t even jump over 1.40m! A turning point came at the Ukrainian Championships when I jumped over 1.55m,” she said.
Mahuchikh braids her hair in pigtails for each competition. This was initially for practicality but it has developed into a pre-competition tradition for the Ukrainian, allowing her to get focused and mentally prepared.
Mahuchikh has been coached since she was 13 by Tetyana Stepanova. Stepanova’s background in athletics was mainly in the hurdles rather than the high jump but they have formed a hugely successful partnership over the years. “I was never a specialist in jumps but I didn’t fear trying new things,” said Stepanova. “On the other hand, I never tried to take something from other coaches, preferring to look for our own way. Certainly, I made mistakes but that made us stronger and wiser.”
Mahuchikh also has aspirations of following in Stepanova’s footsteps and becoming a coach one day. Mahuchikh has recently enrolled at the Dnipro High School of Physical Education where she is studying Physical Education.
Going it alone
While Stepanova regularly accompanies Mahuchikh to competitions around the world, Yaroslava’s parents have never watched her compete. This set-up suits their daughter who admits she would get even more nervous during competitions if she saw her parents watching from the stands.
A passion for books
Mahuchikh is an avid reader. One of her favourite genres is fantasy and she is reading the Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling, partly to improve her proficiency in English, although her favourite book is “Pour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time” by Howard Schultz. “All of us know Starbucks. I was really impressed with the story of its founding. Perhaps I will be able to found something in the future?” said Mahuchikh.
Debuting in Doha
Mahuchikh had the qualifying standard for the 2018 European Championships and 2019 European Indoor Championships but the Ukrainian has prioritised age-group competitions over senior championships. The turning point was her level of performance on the Diamond League circuit this summer.
“I thought Yaroslava was too young to attend global senior competitions but when she won the Doha Diamond League, I saw an adult athlete in the field. She was so focused and not confused at all. When Yaroslava cleared 2.00m at Prefontaine Classic, I decided that it is time for her to try at senior level,” said Tetyana.
Two over 2.04m
Mariya Lastiskene wins high class high jump in flawless fashion.
— IAAF (@iaaforg) September 30, 2019
While Mahuchikh doesn’t go as far to say Mariya Lasitskene is one of her sporting idols, the Russian is one of the jumpers Mahuchikh looked up to during her formative years in the sport.
Lasitskene returned the compliment at the World Championships, speaking very highly of her maturity and ability. “I was really surprised by Yaroslava’s shape and how adult and strong she acted in the field,” she said.
It’s a cat’s life
Mahuchikh loves cats and Yaroslava has a cat which is called Lara. “Like Lara Croft because my cat also likes different adventures,” said Mahuchikh. “My previous cat was very tender and always slept with me. Lara has a different character but sometimes she allows me to pet her”. Mahuchikh also volunteers at local animal shelters in her spare time.
Steven Mills for European Athletics