A fast-rising teen sensation has been breaking junior athletics records this week, sparking a tug-of-war between Australia and France to secure his services for the 2024 Paris Olympics, and even the Tokyo Games next year.
Sasha Zhoya, 16, burst onto the scene at the Australian Athletics Championships in Sydney, winning the under-20 pole vault with a height of 5.56 metres, just shy of the qualifying standard for the world championships.
No 16-year-old has ever jumped higher.
The Perth-born Zhoya also defied a headwind to clock 13.05 seconds and win the under-18 110m hurdles — another under-16 world best.
That came a day after he clinched gold in the under-20 200m, finishing in 21.18, narrowly outside the Australian record.
John Steffenson, who won silver with Australia in the 4x400m relay at the 2004 Athens Olympics, said his potential was “out of this world”.
“Right now, whatever he wants to achieve he will achieve, it’s up to him. There’s no ceiling,” he told the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper on Saturday.
While his exploits have athletics commentators in Australia fawning, France has also taken notice with Zhoya eligible for both countries.
He was born and brought in Australia, but his mother is French and he has until December to decide which country to represent at the 2020 world junior championships — and potentially the Tokyo Olympics next year.
“They’re both offering some amazing things,” he told reporters of Australia and France.
“I want to keep a clear head and leave that decision until later in the year.
“Right now it’s stressful; I’m trying to put it in the back of my mind and not think about it during comps. But it’s definitely popping into my head every 30 seconds.”
Zhoya, who sports diamond studs in both ears, is fast-earning a reputation for his swagger and readily admits his ambition is to become one the biggest names in track and field — citing sprint king Usain Bolt as an inspiration.
“To be No.1 in the world out of everyone that does athletics, that’s the dream. I want to show the world what I can do,” he told the West Australian newspaper in December.
“Not everyone can be Usain Bolt, but I’m going to work my butt off to be Usain Bolt as Sasha Zhoya.”