(photo credit: Courtesy)
When Dmitry Kroyter made his international high-jump debut at the Athletics World Championships four years ago, it seemed like nothing would stop his rise to the summit.
He may have only cleared 2.16 meters in the qualifiers in Daegu, South Korea, 12 centimeters below the personal best he set earlier that year. However, at just 18 years of age and as the youngest participant in the event, his future looked to be blindingly bright.
The Siberia-born jumper, who moved to Israel with his mother in 1999, burst onto the scene by shattering high jump age records time and again, and claimed the gold medal at the World Youth Championships in Sudtirol, Italy, in 2009 before finishing in first place at the Youth Olympics in Singapore the following year. He went on to set a career-best 2.28m six days before his 18th birthday in February 2011, and despite the disappointing showing in Daegu, he looked to be living up to his billing as the future of Israeli athletics.
In his worst nightmares, Kroyter couldn’t have envisioned that he would find himself on the verge of retirement at the age of 21 after spending the subsequent years battling a relentless injury.
l ate last year, he told long-time coach and mentor Anatoly Shafran that it was time to move on and he wanted to retire. He had visited three different specialists in Israel and the doctors all agreed that the pain that was crippling his career was originating from his back.
Their suggested solutions weren’t working and Kroyter found himself helpless.
However, Shafran pleaded with Kroyter to try one more doctor he had heard of in Germany, a decision which ultimately saved his career. The doctor discovered that the source of the pain was a thigh strain and not his back and began treating it with authorized steroids.
Kroyter’s career immediately took off once more. He won a silver medal at the European athletics Under-23 Championships in Tallinn, Estonia, two weeks ago with a jump of 2.24m and three days ago he booked his place at next month’s World Championships in Beijing by equaling his career-best from over four years ago, clearing 2.28m in Leiria, Portugal.
“When i was trying to reach the World Championships or Olympics... i was always under a lot of pressure,” said Kroyter.
“However, once i cleared 2.21m this year i felt that anything else would be a bonus and i was jumping for fun. before my coach flew to America to visit his new granddaughter and ahead of the event in Portugal, he told me that we had already achieved our goal of remaining fit throughout the year. “We had also jumped 2.24m twice and picked up a silver medal. He said that if i can clear 2.28m that would be great, but if not, that was fine as well as that wasn’t our goal this year. i t is important to set goals that you can achieve because if you fail to accomplish your goals you feel like a loser. i ’m glad i understand that now, as being relaxed helps me achieve my goals. i t would have been a shame to end the season in a couple of weeks, but now i have another month to jump until Beijing.”
Kroyter, who completed his IDF service earlier this year, credits his coach for reviving his career.
“ i ’m happy to win a medal but there are more important things in life,” he said after finishing in second place at the European athletics U23 championships. “ i t was important for me to prove that i wasn’t just saying things when i promised earlier this year that i ’m going to get back to my best in 2015.”
Kroyter is clearly motivated by his darkest times.
“I experienced some very tough periods over the last few years. i was as close as possible to retirement last year. My moth - er, girlfriend and coach were the ones who persuaded me not to do so. My coach almost physically dragged me back to the track and i owe him a big thank you. He discovered me when i was young and pulled me out of a tough situation. Had it not been for him, i would have probably been doing something else at the moment, mourning the waste of a God-given talent and gift.”
Shafran paraphrased the famous Mark Twain quote, saying: “The reports of Dima’s death have been greatly exaggerated.”
“He has regained his confidence and i feel that he has answered all his doubters,” he added.
Kroyter needs to improve his season and career-best by a single centimeter in order to secure his place at next summer’s Rio Olympics and he is hoping to already do so in Beijing next month.
“There are a few things i can still work on which will perhaps help me jump a few centimeters higher,” said Kroyter. “ i ’m hoping to compete with the very best and not just settle for participating at the World Championships. The Olympics are next year and anything is possible.”
a lot has changed since Kroyter was a teen sensation that took Israeli athletics by storm. However, the prodigious talent is still there, and at just 22 years of age, time is still on his side. Perhaps the most promising part of Kroyter’s initial rise was that there was no telling how far, or high, he could go. Despite the nightmare he was forced to endure over the past four years, that remains the case, and that is arguably his greatest triumph