With seven months to go before the opening ceremony of the World Championships, the Seine Saint-Denis department - in the suburbs of Paris where the Stade de France is located - is getting ready to host the biggest sports event of the year.
The local youth of the area have already been mobilised. An exercise-book has been published with illustrations and examples drawn from athletics. Inter-school competitions have been organised to introduce children into the joys of the sport, and as a native of the area, European 200m champion Muriel Hurtis has been touring the clubs to motivate the kids.
Some towns are now taking further steps to become involved with the ‘Worlds’ by setting up twinning operations with national teams which will take part in the championships, offering those athletes optimum conditions to prepare.
The first such agreement was signed last Friday between the town of Pierrefitte sur Seine - which is located a few kilometres away from the Stade de France and is locally renowned for its middle-distance runners - and the athletics federation of Cameroon, to host their national team in a three-week training camp before their admission to the Athletes' Village in mid-August. The athletes will train and sleep in the town’s sports centre and a bus will be put at their disposal. In the meantime, other exchanges will be organised between athletes from both places.
For Cameroon, it will be a good opportunity to engender team spirit, gathering together a team whose athletes are scattered across different parts of the world.
It is in the women’s Triple Jump that Cameroon possesses its biggest star. In 2001, Françoise Mbango took the world by surprise by clinching the silver medal on her last attempt in Edmonton.
2001 was the best year ever for Cameroon in terms of World Championships success, as the country also had two other finalists in Edmonton: Myriam Leonie Mani (8th 200m) and Mireille Nguimgo (7th 400m).
2002 reconfirmed the success of Cameroon's women, who captured all seven of their teams medals at the African championships in Tunis - two gold for Mbango in the long and triple jump, a silver (100m) and one bronze (200m) for Mani, a silver for Nguimgo in the 400m, a silver for Carole Kaboud in the 400m Hurdles and the gold in the 4x400m (Hortense Bewouda, Carole Kaboud, Leonie Mani, Mireille Nguimgo). The best male athlete was Joseph Batangdon who finished fourth at 200m.
Françoise Mbango, was also Cameroon’s heroine at the Commonwealth Games last year, losing to Britain’s Ashia Hansen in a close contest - 14.86 to 14.82m - on the Briton’s home turf in Manchester.
In Paris, the roles will be reversed, as it will be Mbango's turn to feel at home, because for two years she's been training with Jean-François Stievenart, the French national Triple Jump coach. In any case by then, the inhabitants of Pierrefitte sur Seine will firmly be on Cameroon’s side anyway.
Carole Fuchs for IAAF