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Page last updated at 18:54 GMT, Monday, 26 July 2010 19:54 UK
Ivan Ukhov determined to hit new heights


Russian high jumper Ivan Ukhov wants to keep the past in the past

By Rafael Saakov
BBC Russian

Ivan Ukhov set his first Russian high jump record at the age of 19. His 2.37 metre jump was two centimetres higher than the previous best, set 28 years earlier in 1978.

But that's not why you may know him. His popularity grew not after this, or any other record result, but after he landed in trouble at the 2008 Grand Prix tournament in Lausanne.

It all came to a head when he attempted to compete while obviously drunk. His difficulties in removing his tracksuit and a less than graceful attempt at the opening height, when he fell under the bar, became an internet sensation.

The mobile video - seen here on the Russian local government website Ural Web - guaranteed infamy for Ukhov and he has had a lot to prove since then.

Region: Chelyabinsk, Russia
Born: 1986
Discipline: High jump
Career highlights: Gold at 2010 World Indoor Championships in Doha

Many explanations have been put forward for his very public humiliation. Having failed to qualify for the Beijing Olympics there were reports he'd quarrelled with his girlfriend.

There were even fears that the young sportsman was on the brink of a mental breakdown. Perhaps only Ivan himself knows the real version.

Talking to the Russian newspaper, Sovietsky Sport recently, he recalled the difficult period following the incident: "I need to admit, that I had a breakdown in Lausanne, everyone turned their back on me.

"Even my native city of Yekaterinburg crossed me out from its history as a sportsman and person. I locked myself in, not finding support from anyone.

"Now it is all in the past. I cleared my name and turned over a new leaf. People in Moscow believed in me and I work to justify their trust in me."

Ivan Ukhov
Ivan Ukhov in action at the 2009 European Indoor Championships in Torino

Today he has no desire to recall that story. He faced a one-year ban but luckily the world athletics governing body, IAAF, only issued him with a strong warning about his conduct.

Two years after this episode, Ukhov has shown that it's too early to write him off and that he remains among the contenders for the London Olympics.

"Taking part in the Olympic Games is an honour of course, but at the end of the day any sportsman really wants to win them," the 24-year-old says.

"All this training we do - it's not just to take part in them but to win."

It's hard to imagine now, but just seven years ago Ukhov had no real idea of what the high jump was.

I'm married now and we have a baby that gives me even more incentive to jump higher and win competitions
Ivan Ukhov

He recalls: "When I was seven my mother enrolled me in basketball. After nine years of playing it I quarrelled with my coach and decided to take up a different sport.

"I was quite big and chose discus, then at the age of 17 I tried the high jump. After training for about a year I set the Russian junior record and decided that it would be easier to carry on jumping than discus."

Specialists in athletics instantly saw a great potential in Ukhov but also an unpredictable character. Sometimes that helps him, sometimes it costs him dearly.

After missing his original target of reaching the Beijing Olympics, Ukhov changed his coach, Yevgeniy Zagorulko, who also coaches the other Russian high jumper (and Ukhov's long-time rival) Andrey Silnov.

Instead, Ukhov opted to team up with 2000 Olympics champion Sergey Klyugin and under him his results have steadily improved.

Ivan Ukhov
BBC World Class is a project uniting schools around the world through World Olympic Dreams

In 2009, the man from the Urals became European indoor champion, jumping 2.32 metres and going on to take gold at the World championship a year later.

In what can only be described as sweet revenge, in July 2010 he went to Lausanne - sober this time - and won gold at the Diamond League meet.

"It is always great to win - it puts you in a good mood for at least two weeks. There are no words to describe the feeling, you are so happy no-one can stop that feeling."

His current aim is the European Championships in Barcelona between 27 July and 1 August. In the national qualification for the competition, Ukhov beat Silnov and so the stakes are high for him.

Any potential win in Spain will finally dispel all doubts about his chances to be a favourite for London 2012.

Ivan Ukhov in 2010 is a very different man from the one that caused such a sensation online.

"I'm married now and we have a baby that gives me even more incentive to jump higher and win competitions," - encouraging words that show signs of optimism from Ukhov.

We will be following the progress of a selection of athletes and we would like to hear from you.

What would you like to ask about Ivan's build-up to the Olympics? How has his training been going? What are his hopes? Send us your questions for Ivan using the form below.

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see also
Renewed spirit for Russian jumper
23 Apr 11 |  World Olympic Dreams
Ukhov defends Euro Indoor title
07 Mar 11 |  World Olympic Dreams

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