Looking ahead to the IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019 and the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, we're highlighting the rise of a new generation, 10 exciting prospects under the age of 21 who are set to become stars of the sport over the next few years.
The series began last week with Swedish pole vaulter Armand Duplantis, US sprinter Sydney McLaughlin, Ethiopian distance runner Selemon Barega, Jamaican sprinter Briana Williams and Cuban long jumper Juan Miguel Echevarria.
The series continues this week. Having profiled Bahraini sprinter Salwa Eid Naser and Kenyan distance runner Rhonex Kipruto, today it’s the turn of Ukrainian heptathlete Alina Shukh.
Profile: Alina Shukh
Events: heptathlon, javelin
Born: 12 February 1999
Coach: Maya and Anatoliy Shukh
Social media: @alinashukh (Instagram)
Alina Shukh is spoilt for choice.
Not only does she possess sufficient all-round talent to challenge for major honours in the heptathlon, she also happens to be one of the best javelin throwers in the world.
Ever since her early days in the sport, Shukh has divided her time between all event groups but has amassed more accolades in the javelin than in any other individual discipline.
She first made an impression in 2014 when, at the age of 15, she scored 5713 in the heptathlon, the best mark in the world that year with the U18 implements. She improved to 6039 in 2015 and was touted as a medal favourite ahead of the IAAF World U18 Championships in Cali.
Some below-par marks in the high jump and shot put proved costly and ultimately took her out of gold medal contention, but she battled to the end and produced a javelin PB of 54.57m in the penultimate heptathlon discipline – a mark that would have been competitive in the individual event final in the Colombian city.
Shukh earned the bronze medal in Cali but ended her season on a high when scoring a lifetime best of 6079 to once again top the end-of-year world U18 list.
She went undefeated in the heptathlon in 2016, scoring 6099 with the senior implements and then winning the European U18 title with a world U18 best of 6186. She contested the javelin at those championships and finished sixth, while her high jump PB of 1.92m, set earlier in the year in Lutsk, sent her to the top of the 2016 world U18 list.
Shukh moved up another level in 2017, setting a world indoor U20 record of 4542 in the pentathlon and finishing 11th at the European Indoor Championships one month later. Now an U20 athlete and competing with senior implements, all four of her outdoor heptathlons were in excess of 6000 points, culminating with a national U20 record of 6381 to win the European U20 title in Grosseto.
After a promising start to her 2018 season, Shukh decided to double up at the IAAF World U20 Championships in Tampere by contesting the javelin and heptathlon. She was stunned to wind up the winner of the javelin with a season’s best of 55.95m, but her championship experience was bittersweet as she was forced to withdraw from the heptathlon two days later after picking up an injury.
Better known as a heptathlete, Alina Shukh impressed by taking gold in the individual javelin final— IAAF (@iaaforg) July 11, 2018
She will be back on track for her favourite event in a few hours#IAAFworlds pic.twitter.com/VidQBZ2BCx
Fortunately her injury wasn’t too severe and she was back in action four weeks later at the European Championships in Berlin.
Next year marks Shukh’s first season as a senior. Heptathlon greats such as Jessica Ennis-Hill and Nafissatou Thiam have shown that the transition from U20 to senior isn’t always seamless, but Shukh appears to have all the attributes to challenge for major titles – either in the heptathlon or the javelin. Or both.
10 facts about Shukh
1. She is coached by her parents
Her mother, Maya, has coached Shukh since her early days in the sport. Her father, Anatoliy, recently joined her coaching set-up.
2. Her siblings are heavily involved in sport.
Younger brother Ilya does combined events while older sister Uliana is a presenter on a Ukrainian sports TV channel.
3. She is already one of the best ever javelin throwers in heptathlon history.
Shukh threw 55.95m in the javelin en route to winning the heptathlon at the European Team Championships in 2017. Only nine other women in history have ever thrown the javelin farther within a heptathlon. Shukh’s lifetime best, set in an individual competition, is 56.54m.
4. Her javelin prowess puts her in esteemed company.
Two-time Olympic champion Barbora Spotakova, 1984 Olympic champion Tessa Sanderson, two-time African Games champion Justine Robbeson and European silver medallist Nikola Ogrodnikova all started out in the heptathlon before focusing on the javelin. Shukh is still happy to devote most of her time to the heptathlon, but it’s good to have a back-up plan.
5. If she wasn’t an athlete…
“I’d play snooker,” she says. “Just joking. I like volleyball and other team sports like basketball.”
6. Her pentathlon record shook up the record books.
Shukh broke the world U20 indoor pentathlon record in Tallinn in 2017 with 4542, adding seven points to the mark set by Swedish superstar Carolina Kluft back in 2002.
7. …but her world U20 record is lower than her personal best.
One week before her record-breaking performance, Shukh scored 4550 which couldn’t be ratified as a record as there was no post-competition doping control. Similarly, Nafissatou Thiam (4558) and Kendell Williams (4635) posted superior scores as an U20 athlete but their marks could also not be ratified.
8. Heavy snow across Europe meant many athletes faced difficulties making it to the IAAF World Indoor Championships Birmingham 2018, but Shukh’s journey was more arduous than most.
She spent 36 hours travelling, 20 of which were spent at Amsterdam Airport. She also had four flights cancelled and her luggage got lost. She finally arrived in Birmingham just a matter of hours before the pentathlon was due to start.
9. She is part of an exciting group of up-and-coming combined eventers
So far in her U20 career Shukh has already enjoyed some epic duels with the likes of 2015 world U18 champion Geraldine Ruckstuhl, 2016 world U20 champion Sarah Lagger and world U20 champion Niamh Emerson. All four of those have scored in excess of 6200 points and feature in the top 15 on the world U20 heptathlon all-time list. The likes of world U18 champion Maria Vicente and 2016 world U20 silver medallist Adriana Rodriguez add even greater depth to the crop, meaning fans will likely be treated to some spectacular tussles in years to come.
10. She’s in it for the long haul
“I love sport,” she says. “All my family and friends are involved in sport. I hope I’ll have a long career in athletics.”
World U20 all-time top 10, pentathlon
4635 Kendell Williams (USA) Albuquerque 2014
4558 Nafissatou Thiam (BEL) Gent 2013
4550 Alina Shukh (UKR) Zaporizhzhya 2017
4535 Carolina Kluft (SWE) Vienna 2002
4531 Sofia Linde (SWE) Gothenburg 2013
4527 Morgan Lake (GBR) Prague 2015
4526 Katarina Johnson-Thompson (GBR) Cardiff 2012
4409 Yana Panteleyeva (RUS) Krasnodar 2007
4389 Bianca Salming (SWE) Belgrade 2017
4385 Adrianna Sulek (POL) Torun 2018
World U20 all-time top 10, heptathlon
6542 Carolina Kluft (SWE) Munich 2002
6465 Sibylle Thiele (GDR) Schwechat 1983
6436 Sabine Braun (GER) Mannheim 1984
6428 Svetla Dimitrova-Pishtikova (BUL) Sofia 1989
6403 Emilia Dimitrova (BUL) Moscow 1986
6381 Alina Shukh (UKR) Grosseto 2017
6357 Geraldine Ruckstuhl (SUI) Grosseto 2017
6298 Nafissatou Thiam (BEL) Rieti 2013
6267 Katarina Johnson-Thompson (GBR) London 2012
6255 Larisa Turchinskaya-Nikitina (URS) Kiev 1984