Mike Rowbottom

Earlier this month in Brussels I chatted briefly with the Diamond League chief executive Petr Stastny, who opined that this season’s edition might well be the best since the event began in 2010.

Kenya’s Faith Kipyegon had been personally responsible for much of that impression, having set a world 1500 metres record of 3min 49.11sec in Florence on June 2, a world 5,000m record of 14:05.20 in Paris a week later, and, at the Monaco Diamond League meeting on July 21, a world mile record of 4:07.64.

Later that day in Brussels Norway’s Olympic 1500m champion Jakob Ingebrigtsen, recovered from his dramatic experiences at the World Championships in Budapest - where he lost a second world 1500m title to an overtaking Scotsman before retaining his 5,000m title with a gut-wrenching effort - ran a world record for the 2,000m.

Earlier in the meeting, Jamaica’s Shericka Jackson had run the women’s 200m in a Diamond League record of 21.48sec - and such is the height of her current ambition that she looked quite seriously disappointed.

If Petr had any lingering doubts they will surely have been dispelled by the stupendous two-day blockbuster just witnessed in Eugene

There was much - almost too much - to relish from this weekend’s Diamond League Final at a renovated - but, it has to be said, not full - Hayward Field.

A shattering world record in the women’s 5,000m from Ethiopia's Gudaf Tsegay, who missed becoming the first woman to run the distance inside 14 minutes by just 0.22 seconds; a seventh successive world record from Sweden’s pole vaulter supreme, Mondo Duplantis, who moved straight to 6.23 metres after winning the Diamond Trophy with a first-time clearance of 6.02m, and went over at his first attempt. 

He is 23. How many more world records to come?

Ingebrigtsen, meanwhile, made a huge if not quite world record-breaking contribution to the event, running the third fastest mile ever recorded - 3:43.73 - on Saturday (September 16), and following up with the third fastest 3,000m ever recorded - 7:23.63 - as he held off the inspired final challenge of Ethiopia’s Yomif Kejelcha by just one hundredth of a second.

For all that she is no longer the world 5,000m record holder, Kipyegon - who retained her world 1500m title in Budapest last month and added the 5,000m title - is widely regarded as being the athlete of what has been a particularly brilliant year in track and field.

In purely athletics terms, that argument holds.

There is, however, another female athlete who has performed consistently well, and claimed world gold, in circumstances that are profoundly different - and more difficult - than those in which most of the sport’s exponents are operating. We are talking about Yaroslava Mahuchikh.

As a high jumper she is all about defying gravity. But, since February 24 last year, when Russian invaded her homeland of Ukraine, this prodigious young performer has expectation pressing down on her shoulders.

Her success is craved as a means of making the fearful experience of suffering and war a little more bearable for her fellow countrymen and women.

In March last year Mahuchikh fled the Russian bombardment of her native city of Dnipropetrosk and, after a six-day car journey, arrived in Belgrade, where she added the World Indoor Championship title to the world outdoor silver and Olympic bronze already collected.

At last year's World Athletics Championships in Eugene she won a second silver, missing gold on countback.

Her form this year maintained its high level - indoors, she headed the world list with 2.02m and won the European title.

This summer she won the European Games title in Poland before earning her first outdoor global title in Budapest as she jumped 2.01m to defeat the Australian who had narrowly beaten her to gold a year earlier in Eugene, Eleanor Patterson.

Kenya's Faith Kipyegon, with three world records, two world titles and a Diamond Trophy, is a strong candidate to be viewed as the athlete of 2023 ©Getty Images
Kenya's Faith Kipyegon, with three world records, two world titles and a Diamond Trophy, is a strong candidate to be viewed as the athlete of 2023 ©Getty Images

Although she is still only 21, the victory felt like the end of a long journey, as she explained while speaking at the press conference before the Diamond League meeting in Brussels.

“It was my first outdoor World Championship title so it was really fantastic.,” she said. “It was the first outdoor world gold for my country for 10 years. And in this difficult time is it extra important really. I am glad I brought some happiness to my people and my soldiers."

Mahuchikh has been based for the last couple of years in Belgium, which she described as a "second home."

Asked what kind of reaction she had had to her win in Budapest, she replied: "First of all I think my father wears my gold medal more than me! Of course after my win a lot of people wired me messages, and people called to my parents and my coach and they said thank you for these emotions because it was really difficult nights, difficult days in our country.

"Because it was every day a rocket attack. And before my qualification it was a rocket attack to my city.

"They hit the bus station and the swimming pool where I sometimes trained.

"Of course it was very difficult but I knew that I should do it. It was my third World Championship and I knew that I was ready for the win. And so it was really a fantastic feeling to win this gold for my country and for my people because they were happy when I won this medal."

Yesterday Mahuchikh did it all over again, under the maximum pressure from another Australian, Nicola Olyslagers, formerly McDermott, who took silver to her Olympic bronze at Tokyo 2020 and earned world bronze in Budapest.

A devout Christian, Olyslagers has said: "In 2017 was my big moment when it flicked the switch, and I decided to pursue God over sport - whatever comes from sport is a bonus.”

The Australian responded to Mahuchikh’s first-time clearance of 1.98m by clearing exuberantly at the third attempt and then put the pressure on her rival with a first-time clearance of 2.01m. Suddenly the Ukrainian, defending her title, was on the back foot. She responded with a first-time clearance that restored her leading position on countback.

When the bar went up to 2.03m, the Ukrainian went over at the second attempt to set the 2023 world lead.

But the indefatigable Olyslagers once again cleared at her third attempt to move the competition onto the height of 2.05m which proved too much for both.

Another victory to be widely celebrated for an athlete who, like her Australian rival, was competing for something more than herself.

Australian high jumper Nicola Olyslagers claims she is performing better than ever since putting God above sport ©Getty Images
Australian high jumper Nicola Olyslagers claims she is performing better than ever since putting God above sport ©Getty Images

How, one wondered, does Olyslagers manage the extreme pressures of her situation?

"Of course it’s complicated," she replied. "But I have a lot of experience and I have a strong mentality. I give a lot of credit to my coach because she is like a psychologist to me.

"She always says to me, 'This is your passion.' And really it is my passion, and I should enjoy the competition and forget about everything that is happening outside the track."

Easier said than done. 

But Mahuchikh has managed this magnificently.