She may be only 20 years old, but Ukrainian high jumper Yuliya Levchenko has already amassed an impressive list of accomplishments, most notably leaping to a silver medal at the 2017 IAAF World Championships and winning gold at the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) Nanjing 2014.
Considering her vast experience beyond her age, Levchenko was nominated by the Ukrainian National Olympic Committee to serve as a Young Change-Maker (YCM) for the upcoming YOG Buenos Aires 2018. The 1.79-metre tall high jumper will rely upon her own indelible YOG memories to inform, inspire and elevate the youthful Olympians to follow in her footsteps.
Levchenko, who competed at the Olympic Games Rio 2016, is one of 83 YCMs representing their respective countries in Argentina, but just one of 15 Olympians, four of whom have also competed at the YOG.
In addition to promoting the YOG and the Olympic values, the role of the YCMs is centred upon assisting young athletes to maximise their YOG experiences. Levchenko and her fellow YCMs will encourage them to interact with individuals from different sports, countries and backgrounds, while also participating in a unique programme of activities and workshops, including sessions on injury-prevention, anti-doping, careers in sport and media training.
Here, Levchenko discusses her accomplishments and the excitement that comes along with the golden opportunity to mentor young athletes in Buenos Aires…
Looking at your career so far, how significant was it for you to win gold at the YOG Nanjing 2014?
For me, it was a pivotal event. Those feelings and emotions will remain with me forever. Nanjing 2014 was an important step in the future for me. I was so fascinated by this sports ‘holiday’ that I decided to connect my life with athletics.
The victory at the YOG motivated me to move forward to achieve my next goals. I developed an interest in knowing, ‘What else can I do?’ and ‘How far will it take me?’
Besides the competition and victory, what else did you learn and take away from Nanjing 2014?
I realised that sport unites the world. There were educational programmes where we could get acquainted with cultures from other countries. For the first time, I saw such a variety of sports and people from different nations in one place.
It is about making new friends and expanding your horizons. I understood how much friendship and team spirit motivate and it doesn’t matter if you are on the field of play or cheering from the stands. I have been enlightened by the humanity of the Olympic values and how they can help you in everyday life. I realised that sport is much more than just training and competitions.
What aspects of the YOG helped you prepare for and compete at the Olympic Games Rio 2016?
I always dreamed of getting to the Olympic Games Rio 2016. I fought for the qualifying standard for a year and I matched it. The YOG experience taught me not to be afraid of competing at the Olympic Games and to enjoy the contest. Of course, in Nanjing, I looked at everything with the eyes of a surprised child. In Rio, I was already more mature, but the atmosphere was the same.
Rio was interesting, attractive, curious and exciting. It was an experience that tempered my character. I took 19th place, while 17 girls made it to the final. I was one of the youngest competing in the high jump and I took this result as motivation for what to work on next.
You will return to the YOG in Buenos Aires as one of 83 Young Change-Makers. What will your message be to the young athletes?
To dream, make friends, inspire, fight, appreciate, believe, support, help, respect, be brave, follow and go after your dreams and goals. And all the victories and failures should be seen as valuable lessons.
At the age of 20, how much of an honour is it to be nominated to serve as a Young Change-Maker at the YOG?
I think that age is not the main thing; the most important is that all your deeds come from the heart. For me, this is an interesting event and I’m glad that I have the opportunity to once again join this celebration of sport.
How do you reflect on becoming a World Championship silver medallist last year in London at the age of just 19?
It was my goal and my dream. After Rio, I realised that I am able to compete with the world’s elite female high jumpers. I am doing a job that I really love and this led me to a good result.
What do you need to do over these next two seasons to maintain a high level and be in the best position to compete for a medal at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020?
Train and develop persistently and give all of my heart needed to become the best version of myself. I will continue to study and improve. And not be afraid of any obstacles and challenges, so that I can keep moving ahead as boldly as possible.