Like his contemporaries Mutaz Essa Barshim from Qatar and Gianmarco Tamberi from Italy, Ukraine’s Bogdan Bondarenko has also spent time on the operating table in recent seasons.
While Barshim and Tamberi have both needed surgery on their take-off ankles, Bondarenko missed the entirety of the 2018 season - and a chance to regain his European title in Berlin - after going under the knife to address a bothersome knee problem.
Bondarenko was still in his training camp in South Africa when Tamberi won the European indoor title in Glasgow last month - his first major title post-surgery - and the Ukrainian is looking to follow in the Italian's lead and contest for major honours again.
Bondarenko won his first major title at the 2013 World Championships in Moscow, clearing 2.41m before taking a full complement of attempts a world record of 2.46m. After being named European Athlete of the Year in 2013, Bondarenko went on to win the European title the following year in Zurich, clearing 2.35m in cool and wet conditions at the Letzigrund followed by a prospective European record attempt at 2.43m.
His best performance at the Olympic Games thus far is a bronze medal from Rio de Janeiro three years ago but the chance to complete the set of major outdoor accolades in Tokyo next year already looms large in the Ukrainian’s sights.
“I think the most important thing is the Olympics in Tokyo 2020 where we need to prepare for the dream of Olympic gold. There is still a lot of time - a little more than a year - so the main goal is Tokyo,” Bondarenko told I-Sport from his training camp in South Africa.
Bondarenko could return to competition next month but the 29-year-old is not expecting an immediate return to his very best form after 20 months on the sidelines. Instead Bondarenko simply wants to enjoy the feeling of lacing up his spikes and competing again.
“Since I have not competed since the summer of 2017, the main task is to start competing again. I try to remember those feelings in training which helped me to fly over 2.40m. We are working on the technical part, I want to show better jumps this summer,” said Bondarenko who could make his return to competition in the Shanghai Diamond League on 19 May.
The rigours of the high jump are such that Bondarenko’s knee operation was not the first major surgery of his career but he believes he will emerge all the stronger for it mentally as well as physically.
“Mentally, I think that I have become much stronger, I am ready for these difficulties. There is a feeling of being unrealised - I am sure I definitely haven’t put an end to my career, that I have to get a good results which I am ready to show,” he said.