Sergey Shubenkov won his fourth successive medal in the 110m hurdles at the IAAF World Athletics Championships in Doha on Wednesday night - a result which seemed unlikely as recently as a few weeks ago.
The former world and European champion did not compete for over two months after suffering a catalogue of complications from a well-documented collision in the Rabat Diamond League on 16 June. His comeback race in the Paris Diamond League on 24 August produced a modest time of 13.88 - almost one second slower than his lifetime best of 12.92 and one of the slowest times of his career.
But Shubenkov has improved with every race since that tentative comeback and the 28-year-old continued to look sharper as he progressed through the rounds, culminating with a 13.15 clocking in the final from lane nine to win silver behind newcomer Grant Holloway from the United States in 13.10.
"I managed to see my coach [Sergey Klevtsov] in the mixed zone and I had a word with him," said Shubenkov. "He tells me any other year that silver is only the best among the losers but this year it has been really difficult for me and it has been a real challenge.
"Everyone remembers my fall in Rabat when McLeod fell over me. At first it was like nothing serious and the problems started to emerge and it took a lot of time and effort and pain for me to recover.
"After the final my first thoughts that emerged in my head was 'this is finally over!' I was really glad it was over but I looked around and I remembered I was second. First would have been better - I’m always aiming for the gold like any athlete - but I'm really happy for the medal to come.
“It has been the hardest season so far but this is also an important experience and it gives me confidence that I am able to do something more.”
Crashes and collisions are part and parcel of the hurly-burly of elite sprint hurdling. Shubenkov tumbled across the finish-line at the 2018 European Championships and the silver medallist reflected, the collision in Rabat didn’t initially seem to yield anything beyond a few superficial scrapes and bruises. But that fall to the track created a domino effect which nearly wiped out the remainder of his season altogether.
“After the fall in Rabat, it was hard to imagine that it would take so long to recover. The problem had many layers. At first, the foot could not turn, it was swollen. Then the knee picked up some kind of infection,” he said.
“Then I started to get in shape and it turned out I just could not run the barriers. The leg did not straighten. It turned out that something in the back had shifted, the nerve conduction was blocked,” he said. “The thought saved me that you can finish the season at any time.”
Shubenkov’s expectations might have been somewhat blunted after such a haphazard build-up but the medal fully vindicated Shubenkov's decision to extend his season. That medal also came attached with some added significance as the Barnaul-native became the first male sprint hurdler to win medals in the 110m hurdles in four successive editions of the World Championships.
Even so, the celebrations might be a rather low-key affair as Shubenkov looks ahead to achieving bigger and better things in 2020. Shubenkov has medals aplenty from the European Championships and World Championships but he is yet to make the podium at the Olympic Games.
“I don't know yet how to celebrate,” said Shubenkov. “My family and coach are happier than me. I was hoping to get better medal, but it's really pleasant for me.”
Steven Mills for European Athletics