Massive breakthrough! Sheryf El-Sheryf of Ukraine sails 17.72m in Ostrava (Deca Text & Bild) © Copyright
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El-Sheryf's rise from obscurity - along the road less taken

If you glance over ElSheryf’s Yearly Progression, you are likely to think that his 2011 season best in Triple Jump, which is also his personal best, is just an author’s mistake or typing error. His results were almost immutable for six years and then improved by 1.30m from one season to another, and 80cm in just one competition. Certainly, you may think that Sheryf set his impressive PB of 17.72m by a lucky coincidence but don’t be in a hurry. El-Sheryf told the secret of his huge achievement and the causes of his previous stagnation in athletics in a short but interesting story.

Young Sheryf had been interested in many active sports, but boxing was his favourite one. However, at the age of 13 he joined the Sport College in Brovary (near Kiev) as an athlete, after receiving an invitation from Valeriy Gredunov (coach of Viktor Kuznetsov). He started as long jumper but changed priority to the Triple Jump two years later.

In 2005, El-Sheryf won the National Junior Championships and was selected to the national team for the World Youth Championships. In Marrakech he qualified successfully for the final and on 16 July recorded his first over jump 16 metres, finishing fifth with 16.18m.

On 4 June 2006, El-Sheryf improved his PB to 16.30m. But 10 days before the World Gymnasiade, in Thessaloniki, he caught purulent angina. After spending one week in 40 degrees temperature, Sheryf lost his physical shape, but still won the youth competition in Greece, leaping 16.11m.

“I was 17 years old, but I had very adult dreams and aims.” El-Sheryf confirms. “My father is very good Doctor, but I didn’t want to depend of him. I wanted to have a car and decided to start my own business. After the Gymnasiade I organised the delivery of US goods to the Ukraine. It was a new step in my life, needing a lot of time. I was carried away with my new job and missed one practice after another. Nevertheless I went to the World Junior Championships, in Beijing, and was able to take fifth place with 16.09m, thanks to my natural potential and my coach’s insistence to make a few technical training sessions before my performance in Beijing.”

In autumn 2006, El-Sheryf moved to the training group of Yuriy Gorbachenko (former coach of Sydney bronze medallists Olena Hovorova (Triple Jump) and Roman Shchurenko (Long Jump)). But he plunged constantly into the business and visited practice only in his free time. He didn’t have systematic training, but every year he competed at the season’s major competitions. In 2007, El-Sheryf was sixth at the European Junior Championships in Hengelo, leaping 15.93m in the final and 16.03m in qualification. The following year he finished ninth at the World Junior Championships in Bydgoszcz  achieving 15.43m in the final and 15.67m in qualification.

“I didn’t pay much attention to athletics,” El-Sheryf confesses. “My coach was displeased by my attitude to sport and proposed that we part. I offered no resistance. At the time I had everything I dreamed of, including a Mercedes S 500. But I made an unexpected decision. In March 2009, I sold everything I had and moved from Kiev to Dnipropetrovsk. I asked Anatoliy Ornandzhy (coach of 2002 European Long Jump Champion Oleksiy Lukashevych) to take me in his group.”

Sheryf had to start again from zero. He dedicated 2009-2010 to improving his strength, speed and technique. “I competed a little those years, but if I tried to do something special in the field I got an injury.” El-Sheryf tells. “I was ready to show the results of my long preparation only in winter (2010-)2011. At the National Indoor Championships, in Sumy, I leaped 16.42m on my first attempt, missing the board by more than 70cm and felt pain in the heel again. My old injury had reappeared once more. My speed on the runway was very high, but the muscles were not strong enough yet to stand such a test. So I didn’t want to risk and decided to miss all winter events and begin preparation for the summer season.”  

El-Sheryf started his summer season from victory at National Universiade in both Long and Triple Jumps, setting two PBs with 7.99m and 16.92m respectively. But the pain in the heel didn’t give him a moment’s peace. That is why Sheryf competed in Long Jump only at National Cup on 31 May and was selected to the European Team Championships after winning the event with 7.85m.

“I understood suddenly that in Stockholm I would come back to top level athletics.” El-Sheryf says. “I became too nervous and agitated. I didn’t sleep normally during two weeks before the European Team Championships. I lost 4kg in weight and had no power to compete. My performance in Stockholm was detestable. In my best attempt I leaped 7.68 in Long Jump and achieved ninth place only.”

After coming back home, El-Sheryf first focused on curing the injury and then began his preparation for the European U23 Championships. He made a lot of technical corrections in Triple Jump and underwent a series of successful tests before departure to Ostrava. His results in controlled practice surprised even his coach. (Standing Long Jump: 3.78m; standing double jump: 7.50m; standing triple jump: 11.28m; 40m: 4.14; 60m: 6.16) Moreover, a few days before Ostrava, Sheryf recorded 17.05 in Triple Jump using only half of the runway.

In the final of European U23 Championships, in Ostrava, El-Sheryf led the field from the start, with an opening jump of 16.99. After the fourth round, his jumps became more uninhibited and his runway speed became faster and faster. He landed twice near the 17.50 mark, but was over the take-off board. He made his last jump in Ostrava already a Championships winner and decided just to enjoy that attempt and the outcome surprised the world of athletics: 17.72m – a championship record and the second best performance on the 2011 lists.

“As for me, I was satisfied but not surprised by that result.” El-Sheryf says. “I expected that I could jump 17.90 – 17.95. I didn’t think that my good performance in Ostrava was just accidental. Maybe I achieved such a result too early, because now I’m feeling a huge responsibility. I don’t like the agitation around my name, especially before the World Championships in Daegu. I need more time to become used to being among the favourites at a major athletics event. I have no pressure in the Ukrainian team but I know that everyone in my country expects that I’ll be able to repeat my achievement in Korea. I’ll try to do my best to refute speculation that my result in Ostrava was just a pure accident, one event’s achievement or a coincidence. And I can do it only with stable results in future. I have changed my attitude toward athletics and took it as my main job.”

El-Sheryf is studying in the Kamenets-Podolskyy National University as a future teacher. He takes a great interesting in market analysis. He is a street car racer and a fan of speed driving (305 km/h is his record driving a BMW). His hobby is creating electronic music.

From 2007, Sheryf has used the same spikes for competition. During the competition season he put his spikes on the table or bedside table, making pedestal for them in such way. He has the same answer for all questions about his result’s hopes for next events: “I’ll endeavour.” His nickname is Shera. His father is from Sudan but his mother is Ukrainian. His younger sister, Fatima, is former gymnast and now a famous Ukrainian model.

Liudmyla Iakusheva for the IAAF

Ed Note: This feature was prepared for the IAAF’s Focus on Athletes Project. Click here for more profiles. Additional profiles will added and updated regularly as the World Championships in Daegu approach.