Yaroslava Mahuchikh, the best high jumper in the war-torn country of Ukraine, won a gold medal Sunday night to bring an emotional close to the track and field world championships.
The very last person competing in the final event of the nine-day meet, Mahuchikh cleared 2.01 meters (6 feet, 7 inches) to win her first major outdoor title and set herself up as a favorite at the Olympics next year.
Her evening came to a close moments after Femke Bol of the Netherlands, whose fall on opening night cost her team a medal in the mixed 4×400 relay, made up some 20 meters down the homestretch to win the women’s version of the race.
But no medal packed a bigger emotional punch than the one that one Mahuchikh jumped to for Ukraine. The 21-year-old, wearing eyeliner colored the same blue and yellow as her country’s flag, has been training in Germany and other countries since being forced to leave quickly from her hometown of Dnipro shortly after the war began last year.
She was one of 29 Ukrainian athletes competing at worlds in neighboring Hungary this week. It marked the first gold medal for Ukraine and the second overall, adding to a silver won by Maryna Bekh-Romanchuk two nights earlier in the triple jump.
Mahuchikh sealed the win after jumping 2 centimeters higher than Australia’s Eleanor Patterson, who beat her last year in Eugene, Oregon. With the gold medal secure, Mahuchikh had the bar set to 2.07 to try for a personal best.
After missing twice, she waited for the end of Bol’s amazing comeback to make her last attempt. With Bol and her teammates in a dogpile celebrating on the track, Mahuchikh failed to clear. Still, it was a win, and a few moments later, she was smiling, holding her country’s flag aloft and waiting for her medal.