France's athletics rising star Sasha Zhoya ready to live up to the hype and get style tips from Paul Pogba

The charismatic 20-year-old hurdler is tipped to be a local star at Paris 2024: "It’s a pressure that I like to have, people waiting to see what I'll do," he told Olympics.com.

By Alessandro Poggi
Picture by © KMSP/FFA

From athletics teen prodigy to promising face of the Paris 2024 Olympics in the space of just a few months: Sasha Zhoya is considered one of the hottest French track and field athletes of the moment.

Following a successful career as a junior, the 20-year-old sprint hurdler is already facing a lot of expectation in his country ahead of the home Games.

“It's not too much pressure at the moment. I feel like as the career will go on and on, I think there'll be more and more pressure,” the U20 and U18 men's 110m hurdles world champion exclusively told Olympics.com at the European athletics championships in Munich.

“Honestly, it’s a pressure that I like to have, people that are waiting on me, waiting to see what I'll do, doubting me as well, because that's a big part of it as well.” - Sasha Zhoya

Born in Australia to a Zimbabwean father and a French mother, Zhoya also comes from a multi-discipline background (he competed in long jump, pole vault, and sprints before focusing on hurdles), and he’s gained the attention of media and sponsors thanks to his 'showman' attitude and 'stylish' personality.

After reaching the 110m hurdles semi-finals last month in his maiden major senior event at the World championships in Eugene, Oregon, the Frenchman is now chasing his first elite medal at the European championships.

“I feel like I have to have what it takes to be on the podium,” he said.

The men's final is scheduled for Wednesday evening (17 August).at the Olympiastadion.

Read on to read the full interview with the talented hurdler, who spoke about his career goals, his love for chess, and why he would like to meet his compatriot and football World Cup winner Paul Pogba.

READ: Who's Sasha Zhoya? Five things to know about France’s rising 110m hurdles star

France's Sasha Zhoya, World U2O 110m hurdles champion.
Picture by Sila Kiplaggat

Olympics.com (O): You are a junior European and World champion in the 100m hurdles, and world record holder in the under 20 and under 18 categories. How do you cope with this status of ‘athletics rising star’ and French ‘big hope’ for Paris 2024?

Sasha Zhoya (SZ): “It's not too much pressure at the moment. I feel like as the career will go on and on, I think there'll be more and more pressure. At the moment, I'm still seen as the junior athlete who's having his first season on the on the senior ranks.

“But honestly, it's a pressure that I like to have people that are waiting on me, waiting to see what I'll do, doubting me as well, because that's a big part of it as well. At the moment, I'm just trying to do my best. I'm having a good season so far. If I can get my time lower and lower this season, then it's going to be the goal. In my first season as under 20 I ran 13.3. The next season the time dropped. So if I can do the same thing and have a progression like that, I'll be very, very happy.

“And the end goal is obviously to go under the 13 seconds. And I feel like when you're under 13 seconds, you're seen as one of the high-class hurdlers.”

O: What was the biggest challenge in adapting to senior competitions?

SZ: “The biggest challenge or the biggest shock is learning to be behind in the race. So in my under 18 or under 20, I'd be used to coming out at the front and being almost by myself for the whole race. Now, being in the senior rank, I'm not the fastest. So I'm going to be behind at the start of the race and have to do a catch up, which it's something new to me.

“I haven't had that for a very long time, but it's something I prefer, it's a better feeling to have in a competition. And if you can be at the back at the start of the race and you come up because you're chasing someone, and then at the end of the finish line, you pass them, I want to say it's a better feeling. You get more of a feeling of a race.”

O: You admitted you weren’t happy with your performance in Eugene (at the World Championships), what did you learn from that experience?

SZ: “I think nerves. Nerves is a big thing. No matter what athlete is going to be next in your race, you still have to run your own race and run like how you're used to run. I didn't have my body at 100% whereas at Nairobi at the under-20 champs my body wasn't at 100%, but at least I knew that I was still the fastest in the field.

At Eugene my body wasn't at 100%. And I knew that I wasn't one of the fastest in the field. So I think I stressed out a little bit. So just learning that at the end of the day, whatever you are in your competition, whatever your place, to not be stressed out, to be relaxed and just to run your own race because you do your better performance, if you're just focussed on yourself rather than focussed on the others around.”

O: You come to Munich with the best European time (13.17), what confidence does this give to you?

SZ: Not too much confidence. But it gives me a little boost because Asier Martinez also ran the same time and then the guys behind are at 13.19, 13. 21. So there are times that are pretty much very close to each other. So at the end of the day, if we're all in the final and we all run at the same time, it's going to be a very, very complicated race.

“At least I know that I'm up in the ranks of the top 12 best guys, which is a good feeling to have. But anything can happen in 110m hurdles, if you hit one hurdle, that's going to change your whole race. With the hurdles the start is going to be crucial and even if you are number one, anything can happen.

“So I’d like to stay very chill and think, ‘yes, I might have the best time, but I will say that I'm the best athlete once I finished in the final.’ If I'm in a good position, then we'll see who the best is.”

Sasha Zhoya celebrates after winning the 110m Hurdles event at the European Athletics U20 Championships in Tallinn, Estonia. 
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

O: You have competed in many disciplines in the past, what’s your favourite one apart from hurdles?

SZ: “My three events were the sprints, hurdles, and pole vault. I hold the under-18 world record for the pole vault. So I was having fun in that event, but I couldn't pursue it because of reasons of coaching and stuff like that. I would have loved to see how far I could have got, but I feel like now it's too late, so we'll put that one to the side.

“I'll keep on doing my sprints and hurdles. This season was the main focus to do only the hurdles because we're getting to new heights. So I had to really focus on getting the technique right and getting the race right. And next season I think I'll go back on to the sprints and do the 200 because I like that race as well.

“I think in my career I hope to be a 200m sprinter and a 110m hurdles, so I can do the most amount of competitions that I can because I like to compete. And if you're only doing one event, then there's only a certain amount of competitions you can do. If you have two events in your career, then you can do much more competitions and have more fun with your career.”

O: You just started your senior career, what are your dreams?

SZ: “My biggest dream, I think, is to medal in each major competition: so the Olympics, World Championships, and the European Championships. If I can get a medal in the three, I'll be very happy.”

O: Can you talk about your life outside the track? From your social profiles it looks like you have a passion for fashion and style…

SZ: “Yes, I just like to dress up, I like to try out new things. The fashion coach, I'm into it and being with a good brand like Adidas who is following the fashion trends, it's very helpful and they can give me the latest items of clothing and what's hot right now.

“And just having inspiration through to the music culture and the fashion culture is just a hobby of mine. So I try look good at the same time as running fast!”

O: What sports or music celebrity do they inspire you?

SZ: “I love Kanye West’ style I love. Then Paul Pogba's always got some drip. I haven’t met him yet, but I’m still waiting on it. The footballers tend to always have some of the best style and the basketballers as well.

"So yeah, it comes from a bit everywhere. And then having a friend of mine, Erwan Konate , who's a long jump double World Junior Champion: he's being in the fashion industry, he does modelling and stuff like that so he can tell me what's popping at the moment and what's going to be the new style. So it's cool.”

O: You are part from Australia, part from Zimbabwe, and part from France: how much of these three countries is reflected in your personality?

SZ: “It's always a mix. It's like when you go to the ice cream shop and you get three different flavours and you have three different flavours on your ice cream. I feel like there's not one part of me that is more than the other.

“Just with my upbringing, having three different type of cultures is just born into me and it's how I've been raised. I can't say that I feel more French doing this or more Zimbabwean doing this or more Australian doing this. I just feel like this is who I am. There's always going to be a mix of what I am. I think it's just a mix of the cultures and this is what it popped out!”

O: On top of athletics and fashion, it looks like chess is another passion of yours…

SZ: “I wouldn't say I'm a professional chess player, but I'm someone that loves having the competition and doing games. And chess is one of them. It's a little bit of a slower game. You've got to think a couple of steps ahead and it's more relaxing. It's more relaxing unless you're losing, then it can be a little bit stressful.

“But I just love any type of game. I'm always into it and any type of competition that there is, I'm always into it. So even if it's a competition, who can sit down the fastest on the chair or who can write something the quickest? I'm always willing to play and always willing to try and become number one. And that's why I feel like I'm a good athlete, because I always try to be the best in whatever domain.”

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