Zerfe Wondemagegn and Sasha Zhoya
As the countdown to the World Athletics Awards 2021 continues, we shine a spotlight on the five women and five men who have been nominated for this year’s Rising Star awards.
The winners will be selected by an international panel of experts and be announced live at the World Athletics Awards 2021 on 1 December.
Having already represented Ethiopia at the senior World Championships in 2019 at the age of 16, steeplechase specialist Zerfe Wondemagegn made a big step up in class in 2021.
The Ethiopian Olympic Trials in Hengelo was her first international race of the season, but she showed no signs of rustiness as she booked her place on the national team with a third-place finish. Her clocking of 9:16.95 also broke the Ethiopian U20 record and elevated her to fourth on the world U20 all-time list.
She didn’t race again over the barriers until the Olympic Games in Tokyo. Despite being the youngest of all 41 entrants in the steeplechase, Wondemagegn advanced through the heats and reached the final. Up against the best steeplechasers in the world, Wondemagegn finished eighth in 9:16.41, once again breaking the national U20 record and consolidating her position on the world U20 all-time list.
She was back on national duty just two weeks later at the World Athletics U20 Championships Nairobi 21, where she earned the silver medal behind Kenya’s Jackline Chepkoech.
French youngster Sasha Zhoya is one of the most all-round gifted athletes on the planet, but this year he focused almost exclusively on the sprint hurdles this year – and it more than paid off.
He opened his season with a swift 13.38 clocking into a -3.8m/s headwind, hinting that much more was to come. It wasn’t long before he improved on that, as six days later he ran 13.02 on his way to winning the French U20 title, elevating him to fourth on the world U20 list.
His momentum continued at the European U20 Championships in Tallinn, where he ran 12.98 in the semifinals. His time was faster than the official world U20 record, but the 2.4m/s following wind meant it wasn’t valid for record purposes. One day later, he won the gold medal in a championship record of 13.05.
Zhoya capped his season at the World Athletics U20 Championships Nairobi 21. After breezing through his heat in 13.12, he broke the world U20 record in the semifinals with 12.93. He went much quicker in the final the next day, stopping the clock at a sensational 12.72 (1.0m/s) – the fastest time ever recorded for the 110m hurdles at any age level and in any conditions.
“Now all I need to do is to replicate my junior performance to the senior category as I focus on transiting into the seniors,” he said after his triumph in the Kenyan capital. “I am ready to tackle all the senior competitions in 2022, including the World Championships in Oregon.”