BY DANIEL NHAKANISO
SIXTEEN-year-old athletics wonder-kid Sasha Zhoya, who was born in Australia to a Zimbabwean father and a French mother, is currently at the centre of a fierce tug-of-war between Australia and France as they seek to secure his services ahead of the Paris 2024 Olympics.
Perth-born Zhoya has been earning rave reviews in the media, who are already tipping him to become Australia’s version of Jamaican sprinting superstar Usain Bolt due to his immense talent and pre-race antics.
The immensely gifted teenager recently lit up the track and field scene in Australia after claiming the Aussie record in the Under-18 110m hurdles, grabbing the Under-20 200m title and breaking the Under-18 world record in the pole vault.
Zhoya also qualifies to represent Zimbabwe as he was born to a French mother, Catherine, who was an elite skier and a Zimbabwean father, Yonah, a musician and marimba teacher, who lives in South Africa.
Zhoya, according to reports from Australia, must decide his allegiance by December, but for now is keeping his cards close to his chest despite admitting that he is feeling torn between his native Australia and France.
“In my heart I want to do Australia, but I need to see how things go,” he said in an interview with The West Australian.
“They’re both offering some amazing things and come the end of the year I have to make a decision about what I want to do.”
“Right now, it’s definitely a tug-of-war,” he said. “I consider myself Australian, absolutely. Being born here, I grew up here, all my friends are here. In my heart I want to do Australia, but I need to see how things go. It’s a struggle.”
A spokesperson for Athletics Australia told The Sydney Morning Herald that the governing body for athletics in that country was doing “everything in its power” to keep Zhoya on board.
Former Australian 400-metre Olympic silver medallist John Steffensen described Zhoya’s potential as “out of this world”.
“Right now, whatever he wants to achieve he will achieve, it’s up to him. There’s no ceiling,” he told The Sydney Morning Herald.
Steffensen said Zhoya would be “a massive loss” to Australian athletics if he chose France. The key to ensuring that doesn’t happen, Steffensen said, is to provide an environment that makes Zhoya “feel welcome, to feel at home”.
“If we’re able to achieve that, I can’t see Sasha going anywhere. Because he’s so talented, money is going to come, and medals are going to come. He’s achieving world’s best every time he breathes,” he said.
Like his role model Bolt, who he has earned comparisons with already, Zhoya is developing a reputation as a showman, a label he freely embraces.
“I want to be the guy that you come down to watch, and you have a good time watching him and he does the spectacular thing. I want to be an athlete that everyone remembers. I want to be the best.”
Steffensen loves his swagger, saying it’s what makes Zhoya so irresistible to watch.
“What’s more special about Sasha is the way he demonstrates his passion when he performs. He’s got his own style, his own swag and he represents it and he lives it. Any sport loves a young, successful, marketable male or female. It makes the job easier to promote the sport,” he said.