Feature Doha, Qatar

Ukhov leading the way to high jump’s new golden age

Ivan Ukhov, winner of the high jump in Doha (DECA Text & Bild)Ivan Ukhov, winner of the high jump in Doha (DECA Text & Bild) © Copyright

There was an audible groan of dismay when Ivan Ukhov failed to make a serious first attempt at the height of 2.43m in Friday night’s IAAF Diamond League meeting in Doha. It was no more than a natural spectator reaction, similar in nature to the groan that is evinced by a false start.

But in truth those present in the Qatar Sports Club stadium on what was a warm and wonderful night for athletics had no reason for disappointment.

By the time Ukhov turned away from the bar set at a European record height, with – by his own admission – a focus already shifting to a waiting bus and a plane leaving Qatar in a couple of hours’ time, history had already been made in the competition.

Never before had four men cleared 2.37m in a high jump competition.

Erik Kynard, who took Olympic silver behind Ukhov two years ago, equalled his personal best in clearing first time, before making three good attempts at 2.39m, the last of which was so close he was left thrashing about with frustration on the landing pit.

Derek Drouin and home jumper Mutaz Essa Barshim, who took a share of Olympic bronze in London, also succeeded, the Canadian with his first attempt, the Qatari athlete on his third.

Ukhov didn’t actually clear 2.37m, having moved straight up to 2.39m after his first failure. It was a gamble which paid off as he cleared the next two heights, 2.39m and 2.41m – an IAAF Diamond League record, 2014 world-leading effort, a Russian record and, naturally, a meeting record – at his first attempt.

The man whose 2.42m indoors earlier this year has only ever been bettered by Sotomayor thus became the equal third best jumper outdoors in history.

If this is what we got from the opening IAAF Diamond League meeting of the season, what might we expect from this event come the end of the year?

Before the competition, all four of the men who have energised this discipline in the past couple of years – along with Ukraine’s absent world champion Bohdan Bondarenko – offered their opinion on the likelihood of Javier Sotomayor’s world record of 2.45m, set on 27 July 1993 in Salamanca, being broken.

The consensus was that it is under threat, although – intriguingly – none of the quartet asked suggested that they personally would be the one to achieve the new mark.

“We have three or four jumpers on 2.40m or over,” said the 22-year-old Barshim. “The world record could go any time this summer, but it is hard to say who is going to make it. It’s really hard to predict.”

Drouin, who had already staked his own claim as a contender by clearing a Commonwealth record of 2.40m at last month’s Drake Relays, suggested that he and his fellow high achievers had created “a bit of a golden age” for the high jump, adding: “I think the world record could go down in the next couple of years.”

Kynard concurred: “I think it could happen this year. The competition is so good but it is so hard to say who will do it. Whoever feels best on the day is going to take it.”

But the US jumper added that 2.45m was not just a physical barrier, so much as a big mental barrier.

Ukhov admitted he had found it tough not to be able to follow up his Olympic win with the world record last season. “I really wanted it, and I was really disappointed not to get it,” he said. “But I understand that it’s a strong record, and it’s not that simple to break it.”

Barshim had made a point of saying beforehand that he was not preparing for a high performance this early in the season.

“Although I was fourth with 2.37m, I am not disappointed as this was a fantastic competition,” the world indoor champion said. “And to start the season with 2.37m was really fantastic. The crowd was fantastic and they really helped me jump higher than I expected to.”

And Drouin, who alone of the four also has the forthcoming Commonwealth Games in Glasgow on his mind, added:  “The competition tonight was incredible, I’m excited by the level of the athletes – it's really good for the sport. 2.40m is not enough to win now, the level is so high.”

A historic competition points the way forward to what could be a historic season in the high jump.

Mike Rowbottom for the IAAF