Updated 24 July 2008
Denys YURCHENKO, Ukraine (Pole Vault)
Born 27 January 1978, Donetsk
Coach Mykola Kozlov
In September 1988, a 10-year-old boy sat on a chair in his home in front of a television set and watched the Seoul Olympic men’s Pole Vault Final. After Sergey Bubka’s win, the boy stood up and went to search for an athletics school in his native Donetsk. He wanted to become a great vaulter like the legendary Ukrainian, Bubka.
But the boy could not find anybody at the nearest stadium and he returned home determined to continue his search tomorrow. But, the next day, young coach Alexander Arendar – a former pole vaulter trained by Vitaliy Petrov in the same group with Bubka – came to the school and invited the boy to his athletics group. There began the interesting, but sometimes luckless, sports career of Denys Yurchenko.
“First of all I asked the coach to give me a pole because I could not wait until the next training to do my first jump,” recalled Yurchenko. “I dreamed only about the Pole Vault and nothing else. But, one year later, my coach fell out from the window, while he was painting the frame, and died.” After this tragic event, Yurchenko moved to Mykola Kozlov’s group and he has worked with this coach until today.
In 1997 and 1998, Yurchenko took part at European Junior and U23 Championships but unsuccessfully. During this period he improved his PB to 5.50 but it was not enough to be No1 in Ukraine.
On 6 August 2000, Yurchenko set three PBs at the National Championships in Kiev – 5.60, 5.66 and 5.72 - beating Bubka, who no-heighted, and winning the competition. He was overjoyed and made phenomenal acrobatic trick (30m of flick-flack, or back handsprings, with somersault at the end!) to become a favourite among Ukrainian athletics fans and reserve a place in the national Olympic team for Sydney.
At the first attempt, in Sydney’s qualification round, Yurchenko cleared 5.40 but then met with an accident. He cut his groin on a pole and was admitted to hospital on an emergency basis. But everything turned out well and Yurchenko returned after two months of rehabilitation.
In 2001/2002 Yurchenko had a long, unlucky streak with many injuries. However, on 12 June 2002, he won National Championships, in Donetsk, and set PB 5.75. In 2003, with a hip injury, Yurchenko finished 6th at the World Championships, in Paris, with a season’s best 5.70.
After a good performance in France, Yurchenko was invited to Brussels for his Golden League debut. “And my poles were lost in airport for the first time in my career,” he recalled. “I asked future Olympic champion (2004) Tim Mack to give me poles and he agreed. It was the biggest paradox! I won the Brussels Golden League with PB 5.80 using somebody else’s poles. Two days later, on 7 September, history repeated itself in Rieti (Italy).” Yurchenko used Mack’s poles again, improved his PB by 1cm, and was beaten by Paris World champion Giuseppe Gibilisco only.
After the 2003 summer season Yurchenko had faith in himself. He used firmer poles and became stronger and more technical. He jumped 5.70 at World Indoor Championships, in Budapest, taking the bronze medal. Every aspect of his physical condition and technique improved before the start of the 2004 Olympic season.
But, on 8 May 2004, Yurchenko injured his take-off foot. “There was a loud crunch and pain so strong that I thought I had broken an ankle with multiple fractures,” he recalled. “All over the summer I had a lot of treatment and rehabilitation but these were fruitless efforts.” Yurchenko had three competitions only before the Olympic Games in Athens.
In Olympic qualification Yurchenko was on the verge of early elimination. Failing twice at 5.60 and in pain with his ankle, he moved on to one make-or-break effort at the qualification standard of 5.70 and cleared the bar. In the Final he could manage only 5.65m for 9th place. His take-off foot was so inflamed and swollen that he had to use a large-size spike because he could not put on his own shoes.
After the Olympics, Yurchenko did not train for six months, concentrating on treatment and rehabilitation, with little physical activity. Still, though, he improved his indoor record firstly to 5.80 at ‘Pole Vault Stars’ meeting in Donetsk in February 2005 and then, in March, he took the silver medal at European Indoor Championships (PB 5.85) in Madrid. Yurchenko was beaten by his best friend, Igor Pavlov, from Russia. “I had no malice or grudge against Igor,” Yurchenko said. “Moreover, I helped him in the field because we have had a true friendship for many years.”
Successive injuries persecuted Yurchenko for the best part of the next three years. Because of this, he was not at his best at the 2005 World Championships, in Helsinki, and the 2007 World Championships in Osaka, although he did finish 2nd in the 2007 European Indoor Championships in Birmingham (5.71).
On 3 November 2007, Yurchenko married Ukrainian ballerina Anna Prokhorenko. “It was a great royal wedding,” he boasted. “We rented a big restaurant in Sevastopol a few metres from the Black Sea. There were many big salutes, different fireworks, famous Ukrainian performers and a lot of surprises for my wife and all our guests. You’ll not believe it but I wanted to invite a naval review of Ukrainian military fleet (a parade of warships). It was really but very expensive unfortunately.”
As a point of interest, the grandfather of his wife, Alexander Bohdan, was an Honoured Coach of the USSR in Pole Vault and her grandmother, Valentina, was a Master of Sports (High Jump) and member of the Olympic Torch Relay in 1980.
Yurchenko’s daughter, Elisabeth, was born on 23 June 2008. To her he dedicated not only his gold medal from the Ukrainian National Championships with a PB 5.83 on 3 July but his ticket to Beijing.
Pole Vault: 5.83 (2008), 5.85i (2005)
Pole Vault: 1997: 5.20; 1998: 5.50; 1999: 5.59; 2000: 5.72; 2001: 5.65/5,70i; 2002: 5.75; 2003: 5.81; 2004: 5.70/5.75sq/5.75i; 2005: 5.75/5.85i; 2006: 5.70; 2007: 5.72; 2008: 5.83
2000 q Olympic Games
2002 2nd European Cup
2002 6th= European Championships
2003 6th= World Championships
2004 3rd World Indoor Championships
2004 9th= Olympic Games
2005 2nd European Indoor Championships
2005 q World Championships
2006 F (NM) World Indoor Championships
2007 2nd European Indoor Championships
2007 3rd European Cup
2007 12th World Championships
2007 5th World Athletics Final
2008 q World Indoor Championships
Prepared by Liudmyla Iakusheva for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project. Copyright IAAF 2008.