Eleanor Patterson clutched her silver medal with pride but her yellow-and-blue painted fingernails illustrated why the Australian was even more overjoyed for the brave woman who beat her to global gold.
Patterson had enjoyed a career-high day at the world indoor championships in Belgrade on Saturday, achieving the landmark two-metre leap she’d long dreamed about for another national, Oceanian and Commonwealth record.
She fought tigerishly for gold but knew, ultimately, that the day belonged to Ukrainian winner Yaroslava Mahuchikh.
The 20-year-old champion had been forced to flee her war-torn home in Dnipro after Russia’s invasion and had sheltered in a cellar before travelling nearly 2,000km over three days by car to reach Serbia.
It was an extraordinary journey that left Patterson in awe of Mahuchikh’s 2022 world best-winning leap of 2.02 metres in front of a crowd willing her to win.
“It felt like a special competition out there,” explained Patterson.
“The hardships the Ukrainian athletes have gone through, no-one deserves to go through.
“The journey they’ve gone on just to get here is incredible. There’s nothing I can do to change the situation (in Ukraine) but I feel for them hugely.
“I’m incredibly proud of Yaroslava and what’s she’s been able to do here – amazing.
“Obviously, I was somewhere safe and didn’t have those threats of bombs and all those kind of things,” said the 25-year-old from Leongatha, Victoria.
“So to see them here and performing so well was a really emotional moment.
“You’re out there competing but you can’t help but have such respect for all the Ukrainians here, my heart goes out to them that’s for sure.
“I painted my nails blue and yellow because I wanted to show them some support!”
Mahuchikh, the Olympic bronze medallist, explained in an interview with the BBC how much the win meant to her.
“It was very important for me, my family, my country. I don’t think about competition, training. For me, coming here was difficult — three days by car — and to jump here was so difficult psychologically because my heart remains in my country,” she admitted.
“It’s so difficult but I think I’ve done very well for my country because I protect my country on the track. I think it’s a very important thing for my country.”
Mahuchikh showed her own spirit with a final-jump clearance at 2.00 metres which kept her in the competition when she was set for bronze and Patterson looked to heading towards becoming the first Australian women ever to win a field event gold in the championships’ 37-year annals.
“But I’m incredibly proud of myself,” said former Commonwealth champion Patterson, who reckons she’s a “reborn” athlete after feeling disenchanted and quitting for a year in 2018.
“I probably won’t take this medal off from around my neck. Sleep with it, maybe!
“To finally jump two metres, I’m so proud. I started little athletics as an eight-year-old and I was probably about 13 dreaming of the Olympics and the two metres barrier. I guess the dream started there.
“I’m really excited for what the future holds now. It’s been a beautiful journey.”