High jumper Andrei Protsenko, who won bronze at the World Championships in Athletics, shouldn’t even be there. A few months ago, caught up in the war, Ukrainian Protsenko was scanning Telegram channels.
People who fled a war zone used a cloud-based instant messaging service to discuss their plans – potential undetected escape routes that could fool the Russians. Protsenko made his first move with his friends.
“Our first attempt to leave was unsuccessful, because there was already hostilities in the way we were going. After that, we packed our bags and waited for a new road to appear. His luck turned, and a new one appeared on Telegram. He still had to deal with seven checkpoints. Russian He had two young children.
I could not leave immediately and spent a month in the occupation. We managed to leave and after overcoming seven checkpoints of the Russians, we reached the territory controlled by Ukraine. And only after I left the occupation, I was able to train fairly normally.” Protsenko left his hometown in the Kherson region with his wife Katerina and daughters Sophia (5 years) and Polina (9 months).
It was February, and still five months away from the world championships in Oregon. It was safe but without any access to proper training. No equipment, even.
Protsenko improvised, and Jugad did. The pictures show a brick house in the middle of nowhere, a barren landscape with fields for miles. Protsenko found a bar, and added car tires to serve as weightlifting exercise equipment. He did plyometric exercises (pushups, throwing, running, jumping, and kicking), and ran in the local field.
“There was no high jump, but I did find the possibility of running. It wasn’t difficult to find something to create the equipment. The main thing was to find the motivation to train – but fortunately I was able to do it, he told worldathletics.org.
In February, he left his hometown with one suitcase, and now the villager side he moved to first has also proven dangerous.
“Everything is relative, but at first it was like silence. That village was relatively safe but then the Russian army[approached it]and we realized it was time[to leave],” he told worldathetics.org. He left for western Ukraine on 13 April. “When we changed town, I could train a maximum of four times a week. But it was not the training that athletes usually do.”
Finally, he traveled to Portugal, and then to Spain, where the respective sports federations helped him. His family is currently in France, with the help of aid agencies, and he will meet them soon. Their plan is to move to Poland as his coach is based in that country along with a few other Ukrainian athletes.
On Monday evening, in his seventh appearance at the world championships, all this prowess paid off – he won the bronze medal in the men’s high jump final with a jump of 2.33 metres. What’s more, it was a seven centimeter improvement over the season’s best performance.
Qatar’s gold medal winner Mutaz Issa Barshim, who won his third world title with 2.37 metres, led the clamor. “He’s a hero,” Barshim said. “He fought, in spite of everything he was going through. He showed up and put on a show. It wasn’t easy for him but he is here, a medalist — you have to give him that.”
Another high jumper, Italian Gianmarco Tampere, who shared the gold with Barshim at the last Olympics, finished fourth this time, behind Protsenko. In March, at a sporting event, Tampere showed his support by pasting the Ukrainian flag on his right shoulder and also writing the names of Protsenko and Bodan Bondarenko, who could not be there because of the conflict.
And what does Protsenko say about his amazing achievement? “I have just gathered myself to show this result in time.”