Yaroslava Mahuchikh used to be not just fierce rivals with Russia’s Mariya Lasitskene, but also friends in the tight-knit world of elite women’s high jumping.
But that all changed, according to the Ukrainian, when Russia invaded her country in a ongoing conflict that shows no sign of letting up.
Mahuchikh offered no solace for the absent Lasitskene at the World Athletics championships in Eugene, Oregon, saying there was no place for Russian “killers”.
The Ukrainian came to wider global prominence when she won gold at the World Indoor Championships in Belgrade in March.
To get there, the 20-year-old fled her eastern Ukrainian home city of Dnipro by car, overcoming what she said was “total panic” and her very own front line.
“Three days by car, the longest three days for me,” Mahuchikh told reporters in Eugene on Wednesday.
The stunning performance for gold in the Serb capital was enough for World Athletics president Sebastian Coe to hand Mahuchikh a hand-written letter, signed off “with thanks and admiration”, when presenting her with the gold medal.
Mahuchikh is reigning European indoor high jump champion, but had to settle for Olympic bronze in Tokyo last summer and world outdoor silver in Doha in 2019 in competitions claimed by arch-rival Lasitskene.
Despite being reigning world and Olympic champion, Lasitskene is banned from the worlds in Eugene, something the Russian protested at the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
Following the invasion of Ukraine in February, the IOC had recommended a ban on Russian and Belarusian athletes, a request followed by most federations.
Lasitskene accused IOC president Thomas Bach of having created a “new war” by recommending Russian athletes be banned from international competition.
“In high jump, my main competitors are Ukrainians,” Lasitskene said.
“I wouldn’t know how to look them in the eye, or what to say to them. They and their families are experiencing what no human being should have to experience.”
But that sentiment cut little mercy with Mahuchikh.
“Before February 24 we had a good relationship, we talked,” Mahuchikh said in reference to the day Russia invaded Ukraine.
“But this day changed everything because she (Lasitskene) didn’t write anything to our athletes.
“But then she wrote to Thomas Bach so she could compete because you’re Russian. Our people die because they’re Ukrainian.”
Showing Lasitskene further short thrift, Mahuchikh continued: “I don’t want to see on the track killers because it’s really killed a lot of sportsmen this war.”
Turning to her own ambitions in Eugene, Mahuchikh insisted that competition had given her “more motivation to show good results”.
“So hopefully it will be good news for the Ukrainian people,” she said.
“It is difficult mentally, but I believe we will win and come back to our life and will always remember this period of time.”
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