Paris: Frenchman Christophe Lemaitre is hoping he can gatecrash the expected Jamaican and American hold over the sprints at the Olympics — so long as he doesn’t go to sleep in the blocks!
The 22-year-old two-time European 100-metre champion and 200-metre winner in 2010 has yet to decide whether he will compete in both sprint distances or focus solely on the 200 metres.
However, he gave a pretty clear hint after running the third fastest time of the year in the event of 19.91 in the 200 metres at last weekend’s London Diamond League meet.
“Normally I will run the 200 metres, yes,” said Lemaitre.
“I will probably give the 100 metres a miss. Unless there is a change of plan, where Pierrot [Carraz his coach] is eager to put me into the mix (for the 100 metres).
“Maybe at the next Games [Rio-2016] I will do both.”
However, Lemaitre, who became the first white sprinter to break the symbolic 10-second barrier in 2010 and whose fastest time is 9.92 seconds, will go to London without the pressure of being the man to beat in either sprint but even if he was he says he showed in Helsinki that he can handle it.
“This race [the European 100-metre final] proves that despite the pressure of being favourite, despite the pressure triggered by the false starts, I remained focussed, I managed to remain myself.”
Lemaitre, who has carried on studying at the University of Savoie where he is undertaking a technological degree in electrical engineering and industrial computer science, will certainly not be losing any sleep over the challenges ahead as he usually sleeps for 10 hours a night.
“I can fall asleep anywhere,” he says.
“I’ve even fallen asleep on the grass at the Aix-les-Bains racecourse.”
Indeed, he was awoken from his siesta the day after his 100-metre European title in Barcelona in 2010, by a congratulatory phone call from then French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Lemaitre, who is a keen footballer and a devoted fan of Marseille whose 2010 title victory he called ‘almost as powerful’ a moment for him as his own winning of the three European gold medals (his third gold was the 4x100-metre relay to victory), plumped for athletics at the relatively late age of 15.
He was discovered by coach and talent spotter Jean-Pierre Nehr when at a fete in Belley, a town in eastern France not far from his birthplace of Annecy, he ran over 50 metres.
“I never saw a beginner of his age run that fast,” confesses Nehr.
He stayed with Nehr for a short while in Belley before moving on to the Aix les Bains club and formed a partnership with Carraz that has lasted till now.
Carraz, now 71, admitted that his prodigy was certainly not the finished product and needed a lot of work done on him but he persisted because he could see he was a natural talent.
“He was a little clumsy, as stiff as a poker and not very coordinated but his talent was obvious,” said Carraz.
“Above all, he had the mentality of a winner.”
Carraz’s belief in his ability bore fruit when he won double European junior sprint gold in Novi Sad, Serbia, in 2009.
One thing that has encouraged Lemaitre is watching the Jamaican and American sprinters struggle to acclimatise to the rainy weather conditions he knows only too well.
“I am used to training in these conditions. Since winter, since the spring, for quite a while actually!
“That could be an advantage because one sees them [the Americans and the Jamaicans] run fast at home but when they arrive in Europe, they don’t run nearly as fast.”
Whichever way the wind or rain is blowing come the 200 metres Lemaitre will be a live prospect to deliver France’s first medal in the event at an Olympics since Abdoulaye Seye’s bronze in Rome in 1960.