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Senegalese legend Thiam Papa Gallo has passed away


Robert Parienté for the IAAF

23 January 2001 - Born in Dakar, the 24 January 1930, Thiam Papa Gallo (aka Papa Gallo Thiam), who recently passed away at the age of 71, will be remembered as a leading member of a glorious generation of Senegalese athletes to emerge before their country’s independence, and who competed for France. Other notable names that spring to mind include Abdou Seye, Habib Thiam, Mbaye Malik, Pierre William, Lo Ousmane, and of course, the current IAAF President Lamine Diack.

Thiam Papa Gallo, as he is usually called, revealed his great talent for high jumping at an early age. Only 17 years old, he recorded a personal best of 1.93m, which he improved to 1.96m, then 1.97m in 1948. Although he was not selected for the London Olympic Games, he would without a doubt, have reached the final. At an end of season meeting in Pau in 1949, he caused a sensation by becoming the French national record holder with 1.99m, a performance that would be bettered shortly after by his great rival, Georges Damitio, who took the record to 2.02m.

Thiam, wearing the FFS Dakar uniform, was able to compensate for his natural, but rudimentary, western roll technique, with a phenomenal relaxation that had nothing to do with training. This is how, without any winter training whatsoever, at the age of 20 in the April of 1950, he was able to raise the bar to a new record height of 2.03m, (1) surpassing Damitio’s performance. These two men formed a duo that would play a vital role at the heart of the French team of the time, where Thiam won twelve out of the 23 times he was selected for the team from 1949 to 1954.

Three times French champion, two of which whilst competing for the Paris Université Club, Thiam was unable to avoid an injury which prevented him from competing at the Helsinki Olympic Games in 1952.

Thiam retired from competition in 1955, and became a highly regarded sports administrator, serving as President of the Senegalese Athletic Federation.

(1) The world record of the time was 2.11m held by Steers (USA)