Tokyo Olympics: French athletics in search of a new lease of life



“French athletics looking for a medalist”. The ad could have been passed as it is, as the discipline seems to be going through a bad patch among the French. A sad anniversary reminds us of the Olympic Games in Tokyo, that of nine years without a gold medal – the last dates back to London, in 2012, won by Renaud Lavillenie on pole vault.

In running, the last title even dates from a time that the under 20s cannot know: 1996, with the two victories of Marie-José Pérec, over 200 and 400 meters.

→ READ. French sportsmen find their colors in Tokyo

Beyond the quest for the ultimate reward, France does not seem able to achieve the six medals gleaned in Rio in 2016, even if the potential is “From five to six medals”, according to the president of the French athletics federation, André Giraud, who sets the objective of “Regain an Olympic title”. But among the contingent of 66 athletes, barely a handful can claim the coronation in Tokyo.

Kevin Mayer in the Thorny Favorite Costume

One of the expected figures is already out of the game: Mélina Robert-Michon, the Olympic vice-champion in the discus throw. For her sixth Games, she was ousted in qualifying, Saturday July 30, to everyone’s surprise. Another seems weakened: Renaud Lavillenie, who returns from an ankle injury. He went very close to elimination before getting his ticket to the final, scheduled for Tuesday, August 3.

→ LARGE FORMAT. Tokyo Olympics: Mélina Robert-Michon, everything for a gold record

There remains Kevin Mayer, the silver decathlete in Rio, and world record holder since. He will hit the track on Wednesday August 4 with the thorny favorite costume. The Hammer Throwers Alexandra Tavernier (4e world) and Quentin Bigot (5e) could also achieve the feat.

Significant deficiencies in the sprint

But behind these headliners, French athletics is struggling. Especially in the sprint, where the deficiencies are important. A single representative in the 100 meters for men: Jimmy Vicaut, released in the semifinals on Sunday 1er August after a season complicated by injuries and a lack of races. No representative among women. The reverse at 200 meters. It stalls, we are in a hollow, recognizes André Giraud. There were times when we had immense champions. But nothing is linear in sport. “

In the middle distance, the hopes of the final were showered for Pierre-Ambroise Bosse, the 2017 world champion over 800 m, sixth in his semi-final on Sunday 1er August, in pain. But young Gabriel Tual (23), third in his race, managed to qualify on time.

“The Paris Games will arrive very quickly”

It is on this young guard that the France team counts for 2024. Behind the known figures, there are indeed all those ” who were not yet born when Mélina Robert-Michon discovered the Games in 2000, in Sydney ”, in the words of Florian Rousseau, the director of high performance. In Tokyo, their results are not yet at the rendezvous: Cyréna Samba-Mayela (20 years old) did not start the 100 m hurdles after a pain felt during the warm-up and the pole vaulter Ethan Cormont (20 years) failed to qualify for the pole vault final.

→ ANALYSIS. Olympic Games: in Tokyo, Paris 2024 in sight for the French

Sprinter Gémima Joseph (19) is expected in the 200m on Monday August 2. Ludovic Ouceni (20 years old) over 4 x 400 m on Friday August 6. “We are already working on this young generation, the Paris Games will arrive very quickly”, put Florian Rousseau. The harvest of medals at the European hopefuls championship in Tallinn (Estonia) in July may herald a bright future.

The “Insep syndrome”

To ensure this, one of the major areas of work today involves supporting overseas hopes, which have always represented “An important contribution”, notes André Giraud. In Tokyo, ten of the Blues of the delegation are from overseas.

The federation has lost many of these promising young people by wanting at all costs to support them at the National Institute of Sport in Paris. What the president calls the ” Insep syndrome “. It is absolutely necessary to put in place a system that allows you to pursue your career without family uprooting., he continues. This requires in particular the close relations that we have with local communities..

Ludvy Vaillant, 26, will not say the opposite. He still trains on his native island, Martinique. It is important to stay at home. Champions train with their entourage. Why should we ultramarines leave our environment?, he supports after his elimination in the semi-finals of the 400 m hurdles on Sunday 1er August. Before making a wish: “We should put in place more infrastructure. In Martinique, we only have two good quality stadiums, which is not enough. “

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