Sasha Zhoya: Poster boy for Paris Olympics hopes to turn up the style on home-turf

Every major sporting event has a poster boy or girl.

For individual sports such as Football, Basketball, or athletics, it’s easier to narrow down who will be the face of the country that hosts the event. But for a huge sporting event like the Olympics-one that involves all the world’s nations, picking an athlete or a para-athlete to lead the charge must be chosen carefully.

With less than four months to go before the start of the 33rd Olympiad, one name resonates amongst many as the potential poster boy for the games in Paris. Sasha Zhoya. Seems strange, right? Many people outside Athletics might not have heard of him, compared to Naomi Osaka, who was already a household name in the Tennis world and beyond before she was named the poster girl for the Tokyo Olympics. But Zhoya is inevitably one of the few stars destined for greatness in athletics.

Zhoya’s journey is one defined by diversity and ambition. Born and raised in Perth to a French mother and a Zimbabwean father, Zhoya’s multicultural background adds a unique dimension to his identity as an athlete. With remarkable talent transcending traditional boundaries, Zhoya began to make its way in track and field by breaking junior world records in the pole vault and hurdles. Despite his upbringing in Australia, Zhoya made the pivotal decision in 2020 to switch allegiances and compete for France, drawn by the opportunity to represent the nation at the upcoming Paris Olympics.

Like Osaka, who faced a lot of critique before the games, Zhoya’s origin transcends what being born French is. He has been more than welcome to be a part of them. The Western European nation is very multicultural and needs to bring people in from all works of life.

After switching his allegiance, Zhoya represented France at the world U20 championships in Nairobi. He made his mark as a force to be reckoned with there, producing one of the most outstanding junior performances in history, shattering his world junior record in the 110m hurdles of 12.93 with a stunning 12.72. It was there many knew he could potentially join the likes of Usain Bolt, Haile Gebrselassie, Mondo Duplantis, Carolina Klüft, Shaunae Miller-Uibo, and David Rudisha as being among those to have graduated from the World Under-20 Championships to the top of the podium at the Olympic Games. It can still happen.

“It was a very hard decision. I was born and raised in Australia, and there was a huge part of me that I know is very Australian, but I was raised by a French mother, and a lot of me was culturally a French person.” Zhoya said

“The decision was … complex,” he continued, “I wanted to represent myself and my family, and the easiest way to do that was to represent my mum because she was more forward in raising me.” He added: “Plus, Paris 2024 is a home Game, and not many athletes can say that! Just because I represent France, though, doesn’t mean I feel any less Australian or Zimbabwean.”

Sasha Zhoya, photo by Red Bull/ adidas running

Inspired by the legendary Bolt, Zhoya’s aspirations mirror his idol’s. The 21-year-old sprinting sensation harbors a burning desire to follow in Bolt’s footsteps and leave an indelible mark on the sport. Judging by how he has approached the business side of the sport, Zhoya is poised to pursue excellence and strive for greatness on the track.

The transition to competing for France represents a significant milestone for Zhoya, marking a turning point in his career. Faced with the challenge of representing a new nation, Zhoya embraces the opportunity as he’s poised to get to the pinnacle.  As he prepares to navigate the complexities of international competition, Zhoya remains steadfast in his commitment to excellence, fueled by the prospect of making his mark on the global stage.

Zhoya to impress as he transitions to senior competition, clocking a personal best of 13.15s in the hurdles at last year’s World Championships in Budapest. Despite France’s strong presence in both hurdles and pole vault, boasting Olympic champions in both events, Zhoya’s manager, Benjamin Soreau, remains confident that he has the potential to break world records in the future. However, he emphasizes that there is no rush for Zhoya to become the next superstar.

“For France, Sasha represents a significant prospect,” Soreau remarked. “While everyone hopes to see Sasha on the podium at the Paris Olympics, there’s no need to hurry. He should take his time and enjoy himself without feeling pressured.”

With the Paris Olympics on the horizon, Zhoya will also have the likes of reigning world champion Grant Holloway to contend with. Armed with a potent combination of talent, dedication, and ambition, he approaches the upcoming Games with purpose and determination. As he prepares to take on the world’s best athletes, he remains undeterred by the challenges ahead, poised to write the next chapter in his remarkable journey as an athlete.