By Larry Eder
Jimmy Vicaut has been a star in France for some time. On July 4, however, when he followed Asafa Powell across the line, taking second at the AREVA Paris and running 9.86, he moved to another level.
Vicaut was now the fastest sprinter in Europe, having equalled the European record of 9.86. L'Equipe dedicated much ink to Monsieur Vicaut for the next week.
Nicolas Herbelot, senior writer for L'Equipe and I wondered out loud, how Vicaut would do through the rounds.
Christophe Lemaitre has, which is unusual for him, some injuries this year.
I went to the city of Lille, in the north of France to see the French Elite Championships, and specifically Vicaut, Lemaitre and the French hurdle crew.
On Day Two, the weather was just about perfect for sprinting: a bit cool, and with little wind.
The stadium was filled with 6000+ fans, and Christophe Lemaitre was in the first round of the 100 meters. After two false starts, Lemaitre was looking, well, disgusted.
Once his round took off, Lemaitre looked great! His start was good, and about thirty meters, his head came up and his long stride put him out of reach of the rest of his round, as he ran 10.22, and looked very good.
In the second round, Jimmy Vicaut looked good as well; no false starts. Vicaut's start is not his best section of the race, but as he lifts his head and pumps his arms, his speed and finish over the last thirty meters is something to be seen. Even though he shut it down about 80 meters, Vicaut ran 10.19.
When the gun off in the menâ€™s 100m finals, Christophe Lemaitre got out fine, and even was ahead of Jimmy Vicaut until 30 meters. At 30 meters, Vicaut put his head up and began to pump his arms and churn the track up, short stride after quick short stride. While Lemaitre's stride length is much longer, Vicautâ€™s turnover is much faster. At 70 meters, Lemaitre and Vicaut are together.
Then the afterburner comes on and Vicaut bursts away from Christophe Lemaitre, winning in 9.92. Lemaitre takes second in 10.07.
For Lemaitre, this as his first race without pain since he injured himself on a 250-meter training track in Russia where the turns were quite tight. It took three weeks to heal, and last week, Christophe, under the watchful eyes of his coach, ran accelerations on Tuesday and Thursday.
The weather was good and Lemaitreâ€™s coachâ€™s translator told us that he wants to run the 200 meters on Sunday, but weâ€™ll have to wait and see.
Christophe Lemaitre wins 200m in stirring battle with Jimmy Vicaut at Championnats de France, by Larry Eder
Jimmy Vicaut and Christophe Lemaitre are fine sprinters. Vicaut is the European leader over 100 meters. Lemaitre should be the European leader and medal contender over 200 meters.
They were both in Lille for different reasons: Vicaut on the hunt for a 200 meter qualifier, and Lemaitre to make sure he was okay to race.
Both got their answers.
The Championnats de France Elite had nice crowds: approximately 6,000 on Saturday and probably 8,000 on Sunday.
The draws were all of the finals, but especially the 110-meter hurdles, the men's pole vault, women's 200 meters, men's 800 meters, and of course, the final event, the men's 200 meters.
The 110-meter hurdles we just wrote about: Garfield Darien smoothly won that race in 13.17 and Pascal Martinot-Lagarde, intent on defeating Dmitri Bascou, did not even see it coming.
The 800m men's race was won by by Pierre Ambroise-Bosse, the French NR holder, who cooly came from last at 300 meters after getting shoved a bit, to hit 400 meters in 53.09. He didnâ€™t take the lead until after the 500-meter mark, and then it was all over. Ambroise-Bosse, in his third 800 meters in 72 hours, won in 1:46.07. He put his arms out and slowed the last fifty meters, as he could have run 1:45 in his sleep today.
Renaud Lavillenie cleared 5.70 meters and 5.85 meters on his first attempts. He made three attempts at 6 meters. His first was a run through the pit. His second was a total stall, but his third was close and it should give him confidence.
Rabelais said it, I believe, some people reside in the gutters, while some are looking for the stars. Lavillenie is trying to reach the stars; this guy thinks 6 meters or higher each meet. Itâ€™s a strength, but in Champs, can be a weakness. He will need to temper in Beijing.
In the 200 meter rounds, Jimmy Vicaut won the first semi final in 20.64, letting up. Jeffrey John was second in 20.82, Pierre Vincent in 21.12 for third, and Eli Mensah Boampong was fourth in 21.38. All four qualified for the final.
In the second 200 meter heat, Christophe Lemaitre came into the turn fine, and let up down the straight, running 20.76 with Aziz Ouhadi (MAR), 21.00, Ben Bassaw, 21.02, and Pierre-alexis Pessonneaux in fourth in 21.22. All four going through to the final.
Letâ€™s add some drama to this already operatic race. In June, Christophe Lemaitre, he who rarely gets injured, hurt himself during the warm up on a small, 250-meter track in Russia as he prepared for the European Team Championships. Three weeks of worry; three weeks of recuperation. Under the ever-watchful eye of his coach, Pierre Carraz, an old school guy if there ever was one, Lemaitre recuperated.
Last week, on two occasions, Lemaitre ran acceleration drills and they were promising. Hoping for warm weather, but not too warm, Carraz prepared his pupil to double, but, one at a time.
This is where the old school stuff comes in. Coaching is both art and science. If you have too much of one, and none of the other, you are screwed. Coach is salesman, preacher, confessor, and trainer.
Carraz, if I could ever understand his damn French, is all of that. His friends tell us that he watches Christophe like a hawk, but gives him enough rope to develop self-confidence and have an honest view of his development.
Under other less watchful eyes, Lemaitre would have been squandered. Under Carraz, Lemaitre knows that if he takes his time and stays patient, heâ€™ll be battling for the gold in 2020 and 2024. Time is on his side.
Christophe came through the 100 meter unscathed. His 10.07, behind Jimmy Vicaut, was a seasonal best.
His first round in the 200 meters, in 20.76, was not painful, but it did look like it took a bit of effort and reminded the young French sprinter that he must manage his final effort in two hours.
The final, dear friends, was a thing of beauty.
Jimmy Vicaut started on the inside of Christophe Lemaitre. As they came off the turn, Lemaitre had a slight lead, but Vicaut, again, testing his new found fitness and health, was cautiously pulling up next to Lemaitre. Vicaut looked like he could have gone by Lemaitre, but Monsieur Lemaitre was not going to let that happen.
At about 150 meters, Lemaitre let loose that long stride, perfectly timing his finish and moved ahead for good, taking the lead by 180 meters and holding it, winning in 20.28.
Vicaut was running hard himself and that 9.92 (and 9.86 on July 4), plus four rounds in two days, took something out of him. He tied his personal best of 20.42, taking second. He needs 20.38 to be considered for Beijing, per the FFA.
For Lemaitre, the 100m and 200m at the Championnats de France elite were all part of the road to Beijing, where he will be ready.
For Vicaut, his 100m and 200m showed that he can run rounds and stay healthy, all important considerations for Beijing.
The French have two star sprinters.
Over the next six weeks, weâ€™ll observe these two champions and see how they will battle the Jamaicans, Americans and few others for spots on the medal stands in Beijing, August 22-28.
Au revoir from Lille Metropole!