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

At just 19 years of age, the French sprint hurdler has broken several age-group world records and now has his eyes set on the 2022 World Athletics Championships and Paris 2024.

By Evelyn Watta
Picture by Stafford Ondego

Remember the name: Sasha Zhoya.

The teenager is the fastest 110m hurdler in U18 history.

The multitalented Frenchman is also the best-ever U18 pole vaulter.

And it doesn’t end there.

Zhoya is the Under-20 indoor world record holder at 60m hurdles and just broke the world U20 record in 110m hurdles twice in 24 hours to claim the global title at the World Under-20-Championships in Nairobi, Kenya.

In 2024, he will be 22. Could he be the poster boy for the Paris Olympics?

“Everyone wishes for a home Games and being a French athlete, competing on home soil with the French crowd, it’s something a lot of athletes won’t get to experience so I’m absolutely looking forward to that,” he told World Athletics.

So who is this charismatic prodigy being hyped up as the next big thing in the athletics world?

Let's take a closer look at his journey so far.

France's Sasha Zhoya.

A global citizen

Zhoya was born and raised in Perth, Australia but how did ended up donning French colours?

He decided to represent France, his mother's country, in 2020 - not an easy choice for the French-Australian whose dad is from Zimbabwe but works in South Africa.

Considering his different options, the Olympic Games swayed his decision.

“It is above all a choice of the heart, but it is also a carefully considered choice. I have always felt very French,” he told Le Monde soon after his decision was made public.

“My mother's whole family lives here in France, and these roots have undeniably weighed on my thinking.

“I can already picture myself competing at the Olympic Games at home, in four years. It is a dream that is slowly starting to take shape. "

Why athletics?

Sports has been a way of life for Zhoya.

As a young boy he played football, basketball, ice hockey, ice skating, swimming and discovered athletics through his older sister Munashe, when he was eight or nine.

He would follow her to the track as she practised, and that’s when he caught the athletics bug. He showed promising potential on the track and field, but he really peaked when he was about 14 years old.

The young teen went over 110m hurdles (measuring 91.4 cm high) in 13.24 seconds and leaped to an impressive 4.92m in the pole vault.

The record breaker

In 2019, Zhoya bettered the world U18 record at 110m hurdles to 12.87. The boy who was reluctant to try pole vaulting at first because he was ‘scared of heights’ also broke the world U18 record in pole vault with 5.56m.

At the 2020 French U20 Indoor Championships he smashed the world U20 record at 60m hurdles of 7.40, clocking 7.34 seconds to share the record with one of his coaches Ladji Doucoure.

In July 2021, Zhoya who has sprinted, hurdled and vaulted his way into several Australian and French titles as well as records, clinched his first major career gold at the European U20 championships in Tallinn, Estonia.

A month later he won the world U20 title bettering his semi-final mark of 12.93 to 12.72 seconds.

All this and he is just only 19!

"Now all I need to do is to replicate my junior performance in the senior category as I make the transition. I am ready to tackle all the senior competitions slotted for 2022 including the World Championships in Oregon " the French sprint hurdler told journalists at Nairobi’s Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani Stadium.

He’s got the World champion talking...

His focus is on the 2022 World Championships, and one of the probable top contenders in Oregon in the 110m hurdles will be Grant Holloway, the 2019 World champion.

The Olympic silver medallist at Tokyo 2020 seems to have been following Zhoya's steady progression.

He took note of Sasha’s remarkable run in Nairobi and immediately reached out.

Holloway reposted a video of Zhoya’s world record race saying, “Someone show him this tweet (and) that I need to have a word with him.”

Zhoya who has a team of four coaches spread out in Australia and France where he splits his time, was 'stoked' to have attracted the attention of the hurdling star.

Zhoya the ballet dancer

The six-foot athlete is not only an extraordinary talent on track and field.

He knows how to strut his stuff like his role model Usain Bolt, and could easily be track and field’s next showman.

Zhoya, who also stands out with his diamond-studded ears likes to put on a show, that’s how he ended up being part of the dance arts program while in College.

According to Australian newspaper the West “it helped him understand the precision of his body” as an athlete.

Sasha-Zhoya-France-110m-Hurdles-Omondi-Onyango
Picture by Fredrick_Omondi

He attributes his flexibility and agility to dance.

“I'm someone who enjoys acts of the body, rather than the mind. Over the past two years I have understood the huge impact dance has on athletics. It makes me working things and muscles that I don't work out in the weight room,” he told France’s Challenges.

“I love it! It also clears my head next to the sport I do full time. Dancing, even in the intensity, is more fluid, more relaxed.”

The French athlete who picked up the music bug from his parents, who were both musicians, had even began pursuing a diploma in contemporary dance and ballet.

"I don't know if there are a lot of top athletes practising ballet. But if they knew how much it helps, a lot more would come."

“The track is just like ballet, everything is written, you have to follow the technique, you don't change things as you wish.”