French sprinter Christophe Lemaitre in action in the 100m (© Jean-Pierre Durand)
This year, there is a change of scene for the Meeting de Paris, the French leg of the IAAF Diamond League on 1 July, but it is continuing with the same bluish tint of the meeting’s homeland.
Indeed, the meeting will be hosted at the Charléty stadium, an arena steeped in athletics history, dedicated to this sport and the venue for the European Championships in 2020. In line with tradition, French athletes will certainly have a place here, though they will also have to ensure they bring their A game as the Meeting de Paris always features the best of world athletics.
The fierce battles for victory will be led by Dimitri Bascou, Renaud Lavillenie, Christophe Lemaitre and Kevin Mayer, all Olympic medallists in Rio, plus Floria Gueï, one of the leaders of France’s women’s team.
With little over a month to go until the World Championships in London, the 2017 edition is part of the programme for French athletes. With it comes a first novelty: the meeting’s return to the Charléty stadium, an arena where athletes have always felt at home.
“It’s an iconic stadium, which has been the theatre of a great many school and university confrontations," explains André Giraud, President of the French Athletics Federation (FFA). "This competition will launch an Olympiad during which there will be a whole series of major meetings organised across France, including the European Championships 2020.”
It’s a championship which will also feature Charléty as its theatre. Christophe Lemaitre has every intention of being there. However, the Olympic bronze medallist has somewhat closer objectives in the meantime, including the 2017 Paris meeting. Not running at full pace during the second round of the Interclubs so as to avoid injury, he will now be able to really show the audience what he’s got.
In Paris, he fully intends to make the most of the public support to stake a claim on the world podium in London this August.
“We’re very lucky to have the opportunity to compete in a Diamond League meeting in France," he said. "There’s always a special atmosphere. I love top level competitions at home. It enables you to be in direct contact with the fans of the French team.”
Dimitri Bascou, he too a bronze medallist in Rio, also relishes this fact: the 110m hurdles in Paris will be reminiscent of the World Championships final. Taking the start will be the Jamaican Omar McLeod, the Olympic champion, already topping the world lists with 13.04 from Des Moines on 25 April. Sergey Shubenkov, the world champion, is also on the start list in addition to an armada of French hotshots: Pascal Martinot-Lagarde, Garfield Darien and Wilhem Belocian.
Renaud Lavillenie has for a long time made the Meeting de Paris his exclusive reserve. Furthermore, his second place at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Shanghai on 13 May at 5.83m shows that his early season injury is behind him. He is aiming high and will doubtless relish the challenge of competing against USA's Sam Kendricks, who beat him in China with 5.88m, and Canadian Shawn Barber, the world champion.
“The Meeting de Paris is an unmissable meet," the world record-holder said. "I’ve already cleared 5.95m here, in Charléty, during the French Championships in 2013. We’re hoping for a packed stadium for a great celebration filled with emotion.”
Mayer to lead triathlon competition
For Olympic silver medallist Kevin Mayer, the Meeting de Paris may be an opportunity to make history. The French Athletics Federation, the event organisers, has for the first time added a triathlon to its programme, which comprises the 110m hurdles, long jump and javelin.
“It’s an honour for decathletes everywhere that there is finally a triathlon in the Diamond League," said Mayer, who is coached by Bertrand Valcin. "I hope that it will continue to evolve into a real circuit. We’re going to have to try to attract the greatest decathletes to show that we’re interested in the project. This will be my role and that of the organisers.”
Floria Gueï began her 400m season last weekend in a time of 52.05 while trialling a new race pattern. The second best French performer of all time over a lap of the track will be up against an entirely different competition in Paris, a fact that greatly appeals to her.
“Generally, the race is very refined. My physical condition should be just about at its peak. It’s a good challenge to take the start of a 400m with such a line-up.”
Olympic champions Thompson, Kipyegon, Ayana, Taylor, Jebet and Rohler also on the slate
French athletes will have an opportunity to shine on home soil, making the most of the confrontation thanks to several big names from world athletics. Christian Taylor of the US and the German Thomas Röhler, respectively Olympic champions in the javelin and triple jump, have confirmed their presence. In the high jump, a top-flight duel is on the cards between Qatari Mutaz Essa Barshim and the Canadian Derek Drouin, the silver and gold medallists in Rio.
Jamaica's double Olympic champion Elaine Thompson will contest the 100m. It also promises to be a fabulous battle in the 1500m, with the duel between Ethiopians Genzebe Dibaba and Almaz Ayana, with the Kenyan Faith Kipyegon, who took the crown in Brazil, acting as arbiter. Bahrain's Ruth Jebet, who last year broke the world record in the 3000m steeplechase at the Stade de France, will be making her return engagement at Charléty.
Organisers for the IAAF
2017 IAAF Diamond League calendar:
5 May – Doha, QAT
13 May – Shanghai, CHN
27 May – Eugene, USA
8 Jun – Rome, ITA
15 Jun – Oslo, NOR
18 Jun – Stockholm, SWE
1 Jul – Paris, FRA
6 Jul – Lausanne, SUI
9 Jul – London, GBR
16 Jul – Rabat, MAR
21 Jul – Monaco, MON
20 Aug – Birmingham, GBR
24 Aug – Zurich, SUI
1 Sep – Brussels, BEL