Updated 31 July 2012
Ivan UKHOV, Russia (High Jump)
Born: 4 April 1986, Yekaterinburg
Coaches: Sergey Klyugin, Evgeny Zagorulko
After bursting into the limelight as “the jumper from the YouTube video,” Ivan Ukhov has proved that his results are also worthy of attention. Two titles from the European Indoors and the national indoor record of 2.40m set in 2009 are solid credentials for someone who is 25 years old.
Ukhov’s first sport was basketball, which seemed a natural choice for the boy who would become 1.92m boy. However, he quickly switched to athletics, specifically to the Discus Throw. “I don’t like team sports, I am individualistic,” Ukhov said. “I thought that in athletics, where everything depended only on me, I would achieve more.”
Tall and physically strong Ukhov was progressing in the Discus rather fast. When he was 18, he went to the Russian Junior Championships to throw the Discus and, just for fun, tried also the High Jump. The result was phenomenal – 2.12m and the national title. “I did not have any idea about the technique of the jump,” he said. “Nobody even explained to me how it should look like. Still, I managed to jump even higher than my height! I think I was just lucky, that I appeared to be in the right place and in the right time, got noticed by the coaches, and found my event.”
Ukhov started high jumping under Vladimir Savchenko, and after just one year in training, in 2005 became the European Junior champion in Kaunas (2.23m). At the time he changed coach, switched to Vladimir Kuntzevich, stayed with him for several weeks, and finally joined the group of the Russian high jump guru Evgeny Zagorulko.
The group at the time included the 2000 Olympic champion, Sergey Klyugin, promising future (2008) Olympic champion Andrey Silnov and Olympic medallist Anna Chicherova. Ukhov had to fight for his place under the sun.
In 2006 Ukhov was second at the Russian trials in Tula (2.28m) and qualified for his first major international event – the European Championships in Göteborg. However, it was a disappointing start; in Sweden Ukhov was only 12th with 2.20m. What made it even more disappointing was that his training partner, Silnov, won the title, and so became the main star of Zagorulko’s training group. Ukhov still remained just “promising.”
The 2007 indoor season brought him the national record at 2.39m. But in summer, being only 13th at the national trials for Osaka with 2.12m, Ukhov again proved the theory that his jumping indoors and outdoors differ so much as if it belonged to different athletes. “Ivan is extremely talented, with such speed, strength and flexibility,” Zagorulko said. “But, in his technique, there are still many things to improve. After all, he took up the High Jump only some years ago! And jumping indoors is easier because there is no wind, and you are not influenced by the weather.”
The winter of 2008 was, for Ukhov, rather modest – 2.36m in the start, but then only 4th place at the trials (2.33m) and no qualification for the World Indoor Championships, in Valencia. The summer was not much better. At the Russian Championships, in Kazan, which was the final qualification event for the Olympics, Ukhov jumped not bad (2.30m). But four other jumpers, behind the winner, Yaroslav Rybakov, cleared the same height and, on countback, Ukhov finished 6th. Silnov, who in Kazan also jumped 2.30m, went to Beijing and became the Olympic champion. This turned out to be the last straw in Ukhov’s relationship with the coach. After Kazan, Ukhov departed Zagorulko’s group and was left on his own.
What happened in September in Lausanne made Ukhov world famous – more famous, than any of his record jumps. The YouTube video of Ukhov, being badly drunk and trying to jump, gathered record numbers of viewers. “This was my PR action - after Lausanne they want to see me at every athletics meet in Europe,” Ukhov smiled.
Back then it was not that funny. The head coach of the Russian national team, Valentin Maslakov, emotionally said he did not want to see Ukhov on the team any more. The All Russia Athletics Federation was going to cut his salary. The IAAF issued a strong warning. What made Ukhov behave this strange way and drink whisky right on the sector? “I am really sorry for what I’ve done and I for sure will never repeat anything like that again,” Ukhov promised. “It was my frustration. After Lausanne everyone turned away from me. Even in my native town they simply crossed me out of their history. For some time I had been deep in myself, as I could not find the support anywhere else. But afterwards I found in myself the power to fight further. I washed off the dirt and started my life from a new page.”
The support Ukhov had finally found came from the family duo of high jumpers – Sergey and Viktoria Klyugin. With Sergey, they used to train in the same group with Zagorulko for some years. This time Ukhov asked Sergey Klyugin to be his coach.
The 34-year old Sergey Klyugin could not afford to coach full time. He was coaching his wife Viktoria, and mainly worked as a state official at the Russian Sports Ministry. Moreover, apart from Viktoria, Klyugin had never coached any professional athlete. “I could not say “no” to Ivan because I saw I could help him,” Klyugin explained. “I understood that, as we say in Russia, two bears do not live in one den, and there was no way for Ukhov to continue training in Zagorulko’s group together with Silnov. But I right away said that we would constantly consult with Zagorulko, as he was my coach as well. If I am not sure about something, I’d always ask Zagorulko for advice. Without his experience it would be very hard for me.”
Zagorulko said: " Sergey is his first coach. But still we are all together. It is like a road with three lanes: my group is driving in the centre, while Klyugin and Ukhov on the parallel lane, but still our course, our destination are the same.”
Ukhov added: “Only with Sergey did I realise what it was to believe 100 per cent in your coach, and when he fully believes in you. We communicate on the same level, and not like he is a boss and I am a student. We sometimes spend our free time together: go out for coffee, to the cinema, watch some sports events. I am an often a guest at his house. I feel like I’ve almost become the member of their family!”
The work with Klyugin started to bear fruit at once: in winter Ukhov set another national indoor record (2.40m) and won his first senior international title at the European Indoor Championships in Torino. “I’ve never been lucky at the big meets – I hope Torino was only a start,” Ukhov smiled.
Both very emotional, Klyugin and Ukhov found the way to work effectively in training. To find this way was harder for Klyugin than for Ukhov. “Ivan is a good guy, he always wants to jump, to train more and more,” Klyugin explained. “But I see many mistakes in his jumps. First it was very hard to manage my emotions and not to start crying: “What are you doing? You must do this or that.” But very quickly I understood my emotions were not acceptable in training. An athlete must be 100 per cent confident in his coach, the coach must not leave any doubts he knows the way to success. Only this case we would have the chance to find this way together.”
In the very first outdoor season with Klyugin Ukhov qualified for his first World Championships in Berlin. The amazing 2.35m jump at the trials brought him the title of national champion – also the first outdoor Russian title for him. “Hopefully to win in Berlin it will be enough to jump 2.15m but somehow it seems to me this is not very realistic,” Ukhov smiled. “To be serious, I hope I’ll be able to jump high, maybe higher than at the trials. In Cheboksary I refused my three attempts on 2.37m (after clearing 2.35m) because I had cramp in my leg. Before the competition I had lost some weight, and the cramp came because of dehydration.”
The dream to jump higher than at the trials, or at least not to let the expectations down once more, did not come true for Ukhov in Berlin. He jumped the qualification standard 2.30m in the third attempt, but in the finals stopped already at 2.23m. The strong rain, that interrupted the men’s High Jump final at the World Championships, affected Ukhov more than anybody else. In extreme conditions, Ukhov proved that the lack of psychological and technical stability was still something he had to overcome. While his compatriot, Yaroslav Rybakov, became the World champion, Ivan emotionally left the stadium with only the 10th place.
In winter 2010, the world again saw Ivan Ukhov fighting for the record heights. Ahead of the World Indoor Championships, in Doha, Ukhov set the World leading mark of 2.38m and made several quite close attempts at the new national record of 2.41m. While Andrey Silnov was coming back from injury and Yaroslav Rybakov was released from the trials as the reigning World Champion, Ukhov for the third time in his career became the Russian indoor champion with a 2.31m jump.
After Berlin, he did change a lot – and not only on the sector. Ukhov cut his traditionally long hair and refrained from the habit of not talking to the press in the mixed zone. He still obviously does not like it – but tries to be professional in everything. “Everything I want to say, I can say with my jumps on the sector,” Ukhov comments.
At the 2010 World Indoor Championships, in Doha, Ukhov won his first senior World Championships title in a style of his own. Throughout the whole competition Ukhov failed only one jump – the first attempt on 2.28m. When asked after the competition which jump was technically his best, Ukhov quite seriously answered: “The first one on 2.28m.”
This title meant that Ivan finally joint the elite of Russian high jumping. Beating the reigning World champion, Yaroslav Rybakov, in Doha, Ukhov proved that his time of trouble was over. “When will you start training for the European championships in Barcelona?” the press asked Ukhov in Doha. “And when are the European champs, I don’t know,” Ukhov answered.
In summer 2010, he already perfectly knew the Barcelona schedule. Ukhov placed third at the national trials, in Saransk, and the decision on his fate was left to the coaches’ council. The choice was again between Ukhov and Andrey Silnov, who was fourth. That time the place on the team went to Ukhov – and that looked fair.
In Barcelona, Ukhov again faced his worst enemy – the rain. It was raining hard before the competition and in the beginning of the event. Still Ukhov managed to jump 2.31m and win the silver medal, behind his compatriot Aleksandr Shustov. Ironically Shustov also represents Zagorulko’s training group.
“We joke with my coach, Klyugin, that we both attract rain,” Ukhov smiled after Barcelona. “He won his Olympic gold in Sydney when it was raining; I faced rain both in Berlin and in Barcelona. The thing is that I jump in sprinting spikes, I cannot find jumping shoes that suit me. And when it’s raining, I feel afraid because I realise that I can easily fall down and get injured. I think at the Europeans I did well. For me silver in such conditions is a great result.”
To end the great season, Ukhov won the inaugural Diamond League series in the High Jump, and afterwards commented: “I could not loose, I had promises a diamond ring to my wife.”
Ukhov is original in everything – in the 2011 indoor season he decided to compete at the European indoors, in Torino, although most of the leaders of the Russian national team missed this tournament. “I like to collect medals, another one from the European indoors would be pleasant,” Ukhov smiled.
He is probably the only top high jumper in the world who can afford to gain 20 extra kilos during the training camps. “It is like I do weight training, only my extra kilos are with me not only in the gym, but always,” Ukhov laughs. “I can lose 20 kilos in 2 weeks, it is no problem. I have to follow my diet during the season, of course. Even when I was throwing the discus, I was lighter than now.”
Ukhov won his second European indoor gold easily and jumped his season best of 2.38m. Actually, it was already a question if Javier Sotomayor’s World indoor record was achievable for Ukhov. He has now regularly tried to jump it several seasons in a row, and had a couple of close attempts. “But I don’t think too much about the record, it comes when it comes,” Ukhov commented.
Ukhov came to the World Championships in Daegu with the seventh best jump of the season – 2.34 m. He refused any acclimatisation training camp, and came to Daegu straight from Moscow just several days before the start. As it turned out, this could be the main mistake.
Ukhov jumped 2.32m in Daegu and placed fifth – a disappointment for someone who had been dreaming to medal. Ivan refused from any comments after the competition. “I believe Ivan’s main mistake was that he did not take any time for acclimatisation before the competition,” Russian head coach Valentin Maslakov said. “It could be ok with one-day events – when you just go out and jump. But not with the World champs, where you first jump in qualification, then have some rest and jump again. Ivan just did not feel fresh because of the jet lag and high humidity in Daegu.”
As always, Ukhov was not going to give up after the failure. He won the Russian Indoor Championships in Moscow with the fifth best jump in the season – 2.34m, and decided to go to the World Championships, in Istanbul. “First I did not plan to compete there, but after I won the Russian trials I thought – why not? Though still the indoor season for me is only preparation for the Olympics in London. I focus on my summer, now the most important thing is to train well and stay healthy,” Ukhov admitted.
Considering his attuitude, the third place at the World Indoors was not a big disappointment. “Generally I jump better indoors and have problems at the outdoor season, so hopefully this time it will be vice versa,” Ukhov smiled. And it really was: at the national trials, in Cheboksary, Ivan jumped his PB and season lead 2.39 m. In the amazing competition, he beat Olympic champion Silnov who finished second with 2.37 m.
“For the first time I had been training for summer being injury free, Ukhov explained his success. “I knew I would probably need to jump my PB to win the trials. The main thing was about psychology, and I managed to stand the pressure.”
“My best motivation to jump is my family,” Ukhov says. His wife Polina and two year-old daughter, Melanie, always watch him jumping on TV. “I don’t think I train too hard, I have plenty of time to spend with my girls,” Ivan smiles. “Regularly, when I am in Moscow, I train once a day five days a week. The training lasts only about 1.5 hours, the hardest thing is to get there through Moscow traffic. Of course at the training camp it’s different, but I try to take Polina and Melanie with me.”
Ukhov’s wife has nothing to do with sports, and before they met even could not imagine what high jump was. “He saw me in the disco, but first was so shy to come up to me,” Polina says. “He asked his friends to ask for my phone number. They afterwards told me that he was a famous athlete, but I had no idea of athletics. Ivan jokes when he says he does not work hard. To be honest, I look at him and think that I would never have this dedication and will power to be a professional athlete…”
2.39 (2012); 2.40i (2009)
2004: 2.15/2.12i; 2005: 2.30 NJR/2.29i ; 2006: 2.33/2.37i; 2007: 2.20/2.39i NR; 2008: 2.30/2.36i; 2009: 2.35/2.40i NR; 2010: 2.36/2.38i; 2011: 2.34/2.38i; 2012: 2.39/2.34i
2004 q World Junior Championships (Grosseto) 2.10
2005 4th Russian Indoor Championships (Volgograd) 2.28
2005 3rd Russian Championships (Tula) 2.30
2005 1st European Junior Championships (Kaunas) 2.23
2005 4th World University Games (Izmir) 2.23
2006 3rd Russian Indoor Championships (Moscow) 2.32
2006 1st European Indoor Cup (Liévin) 2.26
2006 2nd Russian Championships (Tula) 2.28
2006 12th European Championships (Goteborg) 2.20
2006 5th World Athletics Final (Stuttgart) 2.25
2007 1st Russian Indoor Championships (Volgograd) 2.32
2007 13th Russian Championships (Tula) 2.12
2008 4th Russian Indoor Championships (Moscow) 2.33
2008 6th Russian Championships (Kazan) 2.30
2009 1st Russian Indoor Championships (Moscow) 2.37
2009 1st European Indoor Championships (Torino) 2.32
2009 1st European Champions Clubs Cup (Castellon) 2.34
2009 1st Russian Championships (Cheboksary) 2.35
2009 10th World Championships (Berlin) 2.23 (2.30 in q)
2009 5th World Athletics Final (Thessaloniki) 2.26
2010 1st Russian Indoor Championships (Moscow) 2.31
2010 1st World Indoor Championships (Doha) 2.36
2010 3rd Russian Championships (Saransk) 2.28
2010 2nd European Championships (Barcelona) 2.31
2011 1st European Indoor Championships (Paris) 2.38
2011 3rd Russian Championships (Cheboksary) 2.34
2011 5th World Championships (Daegu) 2.32
2012 1st Russian Indoor Championships (Moscow) 2.34
2012 3rd World Indoor Championships (Istanbul) 2.31
2012 1st Russian Championships (Cheboksary) 2.39
Prepared by Natalia Maryanchik for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project. Copyright IAAF 2009-2012.