Mariya Kuchina will start as one of the favourites for the high jump gold medal at next summer’s European Athletics Junior Championships after her victory at the Youth Olympic Games in August.
However, this winter will see a series of upheavals for one of Russia’s, and European Athletics’, brightest athletics hopes.
The 17-year-old jumper has left her parents - her father was a good amateur basketball player and her mother a volleyball player, which have obviously provided her with good genes - and moved from her home town of Prokhladny, which is situated in the Kabardino-Balkaria region of the North Caucasus mountains, to study at the Volgograd State Academy of Physical Culture.
“Since 20 September, I started a new life in another city and with another coach. All the changes are very scary,” admitted Kuchina in a recent interview with the Russian newspaper Sovietsky Sport.
“Everything has changed. My current coach Gennady Garikovich can not go with me, and so we looked for a coach who would take me further,” she added.
She has now come under the wing of Boris Gorkov, the man who guided Yelena Slesarenko to the 2004 Olympic Games gold medal and the current Russian record of 2.06m.
“However, I’m sure that Gorkov will consult and communicate with my first coach,” said Kuchina, emphasising that the decision to move on from Garikovich had been harmonious.
This is also obvious in Garikovich’s comments about his departing pupil, which he delivered without rancour.
“I do not like making predictions but my guess is that it will only be two years before Mariya jumps two metres,” he said.
It is worth remembering that the world and European junior records stand at 2.01m and are jointly held by Ukraine’s Olga Turchak and Germany’s Helga Balck.
It has been a memorable year for Kuchina. Not only did she win in Singapore, she was subsequently presented to the Russian president Dmitry Medvedev.
“It was very exciting to meet the president of the country. He said many nice words and finally gave me a beautiful watch and a bouquet of roses,” reflected Kuchina, as thrilled as any teenager might be under such circumstances.
However, Kuchina will not have any guarantee of a gold medal in Tallinn despite being the most consistent junior performer in the world this year with her 1.91m clearance in Penza and two other competitions at 1.90m.
The women’s high jump promises to be one of the most thrilling competitions of the four-day event in the Estonian capital next July.
Europeans occupy the top four spots in this year’s world junior rankings. As well Kuchina, Lithuania’s Airinė Palšytė and Montenegro’s Marija Vuković will still be in the junior ranks next year.
Palšytė, 18, cleared 1.92m to lead the 2010 world junior lists when she finished second at the European Team Championships first league match in Budapest while Vuković, also 18 having been born in 1992, went over 1.91m to win the gold medal at the World Junior Championships, where Palšytė had to settle for the silver medal.
Add into the mix Italy’s Alessia Trost, who won the world youth title ahead of Kuchina 12 months ago and finished second to her in Singapore, and the women’s high jump at the European Athletics Junior Championships should be a contest to savour.