Kim Gevaert at the 2002 European Championships (Getty Images) © Copyright
Feature Brussels, Belgium

Gevaert - learning to live up to expectations

As expected, Kim Gevaert was crowned queen of Belgian athletics on Saturday night, during the end of the season awards ceremony held in the Bouglione circus tent, an enjoyable evening where clowns, acrobats, tigers and elephants shared the floor with the athletes.

Gevaert collected the women’s “Golden Spike” well ahead of marathon specialist Marleen Renders and 800m runner Sandra Stals. The men’s trophy was awarded to 400m European finalist Cedric Van Branteghem, who beat 800m runner Joeri Jansen, and Pole Vaulter Thibaut Duval.

Gevaert, 24, has had “an exceptional year”, conquering her first international title at the European Indoor Championships in Vienna, where she beat the field in the 60m, and collecting two silver medals at the European (outdoor) championships in Munich behind Greece’s Ekaterini Thanou (100m) and France’s Muriel Hurtis (200m). During the campaign, she set 11 new Belgian records, indoor and outdoor, alone and collectively with the 4x100m relay team.

“I’m delighted with this second Golden Spike”, she said. “I’m more proud of it than the one I received last year as I think I deserve it much more.”

Gevaert, who has just returned from a two-week training camp in Pretoria, South Africa with the Belgian Olympic squad, has no difficulty admitting that the continental championship 200m final in Munich was her best race of the season.

“Although it was my sixth race of the week, it was a very thrilling one. I was especially proud to be able to stay very close to Muriel (Hurtis), to put the pressure on her and to cross the line in 22.53. I just couldn’t believe it that I had run faster than the great Irina Privalova had done 4 years earlier in Budapest to win her European title. I’ve always been a big fan of hers”.

Gevaert’s popularity has grown dramatically in Belgium since Munich. Right after the Europeans, she was the star of the evening for the Brussels crowd at this year’s Memorial Van Damme Golden League meeting.

She’s also now frequently asked as a guest on TV shows. “I don’t mind doing it as long as it doesn’t interfere with my training. I know it is important for me and for my sport which usually has a hard time coming into the spotlight.”

But the fun has to stop sometimes. After a 5-week break following the IAAF World Cup in Madrid where she was selected for the European team to run the 100m (8th), Gevaert returned to training under the direction of Rudi Diels, who’s been coaching her since she started running.

“I’m always having a terrible time in the beginning (of each season) as I usually do absolutely nothing during my autumn break! There is extra pressure this year as everybody is expecting a lot from me. It scares me sometimes. I’m afraid I won’t be able to reproduce the same results.”

Gevaert has set her mind on Paris 2003. She knows it will be very hard to run two finals at the World Championships like she did at the Europeans but her chances of hitting the last 8 at 200m are real. As for this winter season, she hasn’t decided yet if she will go to the World Indoors in Birmingham next March but the omens are good, as she has agreed to run the four editions of the Energizer Series in Ghent, Stockholm, Birmingham and Lievin.

These four indoor meets will be a good warm-up but more importantly they will show what work was achieved in the autumn, if Gevaert has grown accustomed to her new status, and can live up to the Belgium public’s post Munich expectations.

Philippe Vande Weyer (Le Soir, Brussels) for the IAAF