Much has been made of the fact that Christophe Lemaitre became the first white sprinter to crack the sub 10 barrier when he blitzed to a 9.98 clocking at the French championships earlier this month. More impressive to me however, was yesterday’s 100 meter victory at the European Championships. Because as I watched him through the rounds and into the final, what I saw was a young man that is more than fast – he is a competitor!
The field that he took on was a veteran field that contained some of the best that Europe has had to offer, not just currently but over the past decade. There was defending champion Francis Obikwelu (POR) who is also a former World silver medalist over 200 meters (1999) and former Olympic silver medalist over 100 (2004) and boasts life time bests of 9.86 & 19.84. There was one time wunderkind Mark Lewis Francis, who at the turn of the decade was considered to be the next great thing in sprinting. There was countryman Ronald Pognon whose national record Lemaitre eclipsed in Valence with experience in two Olympics and two World Championships. Lemaitre, who just turned 20 in June, was a boy among men in this field. But he prevailed.
He won each race through the rounds in spite of rumors of injury. In the final his start was not the best, but he was patient and held form, then blew past the field on his way to victory. His race was not that of the gangly youngster that he is – it was reminiscent of Valarie Borzov, Pietro Mennea, and Alan Wells. White European sprint champions from another era who all became Olympic champions during their careers. Sprinters who all exhibited a strong competitive nature and nerves of steel. Men who stepped on the track not as white sprinters, but sprinters determined to give their best and beat whomever they had to to win. And THAT is what I saw in Lemaitre yesterday.
He seemed to look forward to the challenge of facing Dwain Chambers – the only other Euro sprinter under 10 seconds this season at 9.99. Chambers left the sport amid a drug ban in 2002 as the fastest man in Europe, and upon his return in 2006 has continued to be the fastest man in Europe. None of this seemed to bother Lemaitre. His goal, watching him through the rounds, was clearly the European title – a title he won going away.
Is he ready to challenge the big three – Bolt, Gay & Powell? No, not yet. He’s still raw – which is one of the reasons I’m high on this kid. Like I said his win yesterday was less than perfect in execution. It was simply high on competitiveness. His start is average. His drive phase is nothing like the big three. His body position in full flight is not always the best. Once up and running he just finds a way to eat up ground. But then at age 20 neither Bolt (nm), Gay (10.27) or Powell (10.12) were as fast over 100 as Lemaitre! He’s ahead of the game and should make the competition in London interesting. And by 2016 who knows what the sprinting landscape will look like.
Borzov, Mennea, Wells. Lemaitre?