Myriam Soumare takes surprise 200m gold in Barcelona (/ Bongarts) © Copyright
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Soumaré – from modest beginnings to triple European medallist

GargesLesGonesse, FranceMyriam Soumaré burst onto the international scene in Barcelona, winning a full collection of medals - gold at 200m, silver at 4x100m and bronze at 100m – at the European championships last summer.

In spite of the huge interest in France provoked by her surprising results, the 24-year-old part-time pediatric nurse hasn’t changed her habits and has resumed training for the 2011 season in Garges-Les-Gonesse in the northern suburbs of Paris.
Every evening, between 20 and 30 male and female athletes from age 18 to 38, all members of AAPFA 95 Club, leave their school or job for the Stade Pierre de Coubertin for their daily training. So do their two coaches, Olivier Darnal, 32, a public transport controller and Hubert Rochard, 42, a school teacher.

Among the packed group, nothing distinguishes the European 200m champion Soumaré, who conscientiously performs her warm-up drills in the chill. When the temperature gets too cold, the group moves to the Eaubonne indoor track, and some of them, including Soumaré, have special sessions in the gym located in Sarcelles, about a five minute car ride away.

“She hates to step up to the plate,” confirms Darnal. “After Barcelona, there were a lot of invitations and media fuss around her. But she would like things to get back to normal. The first weeks after she resumed training were a bit hard, but the pleasure has come back, and while preparing the European indoor championhips, she knows that now all the girls want her hide.”

These championships, being held this winter in Paris-Bercy (4-6 March), Soumaré knows that her opposition comes from her own country and her 4x100m relay teammates, Véronique Mang (silver medallist at 100m), Christine Arron (eight at 100m) and Lina Jacques-Sébastien (fifith at 200m).

“I’ve already forget my previous season, and I’m not thinking about the coming outdoor one. I have also forgotten my 7.19 (60m) personal best set last winter, I just want to surpass myself and do crazy things on the track,” said Soumaré, who may start her indoor season in late January, probably in Bordeaux on the 29th.
Watching her repeating endless 20m acceleration repetitions, even going for an improvised all-out 300m at the end of a strenuous workout, it’s difficult to imagine that the new sprint marvel didn’t like running.

Began career by filling a club relay spot

“Initially, I was going to training backward, but the ambiance and the coach of the group pushed me to come back,” recalls the 1.67m/57kg Paris-born sprinter with origins in Mauritania. “Now, I’ve learned to like to suffer, I’m enjoying training more and more. And I also want more podiums in the future!”

Darnal recalls: “In June 2004, a girl was missing in our club relay. One of them told me to take her young sister because she used to be the fastest at school. I then met Myriam and tested her in training shoes over a 2x100m with one minute rest. The sum-up time was about 24.5 seconds, which was staggering. I forced her to come back during the fall to train, and negotiated with her to train only once a week.” She began competing and ran 7.73 for 60m and 24.66 over 200m indoors.

“Since then, we have added one session every year, and she now trains four to five times a week,” Darnal continued. “She started to really enjoy the sport at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing where she was a relay member, and the 2009 World Championships in Berlin was the real turn.”

The national 100m champion, she set personal bests at 11.34 and 23.34 that year and reached the 100m quarter finals in Berlin. “She understood that she could be an actor instead of a spectator, and she gave me the authorisation to increase the workload at training.”
Soumaré soon collected the first results of her attitude change, setting a European indoor leading mark at 60m in 7.19 and the second fastest at 200m (23.30) the following winter.

Slow 2010 start, fast finish

However, the outdoor season was nothing special initially – she didn’t reach the 200m French qualification mark for Barcelona until the national championships where she ran 23.01. As a result, she was also entered in the 100m although she hadn’t achieved the requested 11.30 as she only ran11.35/11.32w.

This turned out to be a wise idea as she ran 11.13 (w+2.2) in the Barcelona semis, and stunned observers by finishing third in the final behind German Verena Sailer and teammate Mang, improving her personal best by 0.16 with her 11.18 dash into a 0.6m/s wind.

Her confidence boosted, Soumaré reached the 200m final, and starting in lane eight she never looked back to the Russian favourite Aleksandra Fedoriva to win in 22.32, a massive 0.69 improvement from her previous record.

“I just was expecting to run under 23 seconds and I thought I would actually struggle after having run the 100m before. I also thought the lane eight would penalize me. Olivier was the only one to believe in me!” The runner-up finish of the 4x100m Relay squad completed a full set of European Championships medals.
She will train for all three events this winter, first with a 4x100m Relay camp in Nice in mid-December and then training geared toward 60m and 200m indoors.

“I love racing indoors even if the 200m is no longer in the European championships programme,” the quick starter said. “I just try to prepare myself peacefully as I know that I’ll have to do it all again in 2011.”

Pierre Jean Vazel for the IAAF