French national championships: women make the show in windy conditions
Saturday 26 July 2003
The French championships which were held from Tuesday 24 to Saturday 26 July in Narbonne may not remain in memories for long.

Highlights of the competition were a new French record of 4.50m in the Pole Vault by Vanessa Boslak, 70.89m in the Hammer Throw for Manuela Montebrun, a solitary win in 3:37.09 by Fouad Chouki in the 1500m, a duel between Christine Arron and Muriel Hurtis in the short sprint that turned to the former’s advantage 10.95 against 11.00 (+2.5m/s) and good confrontation in the women’s 100m Hurdles with Patricia Girard’s victory in 12.74 (+1.8m/s).

But the average level was far from excellent with only three new athletes having reached the A-standards for the World Championships.

The competition was initially meant to be a review of strengths with one month to go before the World championships, where the French athletes hope to shine in front of their home crowd.

The technical director, Robert Poirier, had made a point of reminding it regularly throughout the season: “Whoever wants to make the team for Paris will have to be present at the national championships. Dispensations will be absolutely exceptional.” However pragmatism took over since then.

Heptathlete Eunice Barber, one of the contenders for the world title in Paris was the first to make a breach to Poirier’s plans. Having flown back to the United States last 10 July, she made it clear that she wouldn’t return to France before the month of August.

After Barber, European 400m Hurdles reigning champion Stéphane Diagana announced his withdrawal because of adductors problems, and then Ismail Sghyr (5000m) because of a slight calf injury.

After that - the news was taken up by all French media - Marie-José Pérec confirmed that “unless a miracle happens”, she’ll be definitely out of contention for Paris’ 4x400m. And finally, all the athletes who took part in the U23 Euro champs and had already the A-standard (Ronald Pognon, Leslie Djhone, Ladji Doucouré, Florent Lacasse and Sébastien Maillard) were granted the right to rest.

And then, there is the case of Mehdi Baala. On Wednesday, he was announced as absent because of a knee injury. The absence was less surprising than the motive itself as it was well known that these championships didn’t fit well into his preparation schedule.

Yet on Thursday, he surprised everybody by winning the first heat of the 800m in 1:46.16, the best time recorded on the distance over the week-end. “This morning, I was still determined not to run, but when I read in the media that people doubted about the reality of my injury [patellar tendonitis], I got deeply upset”, Baala declared after the race.

So he came all the way from Font-Romeu to Narbonne to show the results of his scans to the Federation’s doctor who confirmed he would only take minor risks of aggravation by running. “I didn’t feel any pain during the race, so I can be happy with my performance considering that I slowed down in the end and that I didn’t prepare specifically for this race. But I still deplore that the technical director granted dispensations more easily to some than others.” Whereupon Baala left back to his altitude camp and didn’t come back for the final.

Fortunately, there were still athletes who came to Narbonne and met all expectations.

In the first place, Manuela Montebrun, who expectedly trounced the opposition despite a result below par in the sight of her previous results this season : 70.89m on her second attempt after a first throw at 70.36m. Florence Ezeh was second with 65.29.

As for pole vaulter Vanessa Boslak, she progressively reduces the gap that separates her from the best athletes in the world. On Saturday, she needed only three jumps (4.10m, 4.30m and 4.50m) to break the previous national record of 4.46m that she held jointly with Marie Poissonnier.

The sprints also led to exciting confrontations. Actually, the direction of the races had been reversed so that athletes could produce better times by running with tailwind rather than against strong headwind. It wasn’t expected that the wind would be so strong though, and several marks will not be ratified.

Thus, all of Muriel Hurtis’ performance were wind-assisted [11.07 (+2.8m/s) in the heats, 10.97 (+3.4m/s in the semi) and 11.00 (+2.5m/s) in the final] while Christine Arron had a legal 11.09 (+0.4m/s) in her heat.

After holding Arron’s challenge for 60m in the final, Hurtis had to set for 2nd place for 5 hundredths of seconds. She then confirmed her decision to run the 200m in Paris, considering the 100m as a race giving “too uncertain results”.

On the men’s side Cameroon-born architecture student, Aimé Nthépé was an easy winner in 10.09, assisted by a +2.3m/s wind. Luckily he had just tied a non wind assisted A standard of 10.21 in semi final, thus securing his spot for the world championships.

In the Triple Jump, Julien Kapek achieved a wind aided 17.24m (+2.5m/s), but he already had a qualifier from earlier in the season. Long jumper Salim Sdiri didn’t have that same chance, as his only jump above the A standard, 8.29m, was assisted by a wind of +3,1m/s. He still has some arguments, having the B-standard and an 8.23m from last year, but his selection will now rely on the selectors’ indulgence.

On the following day, Aimé Nthépé surprised everybody by finishing on the heels of Cameroon’s Joseph Batangdon, runner up at the World Indoor championships, 20.65 against 20.64 into a 2.7 headwind this time.

In the 100m Hurdles, while 35-year-old Patricia Girard keeps ruling the event and won her 6th national title in 12.74, the battle was hot for the selections: while 2nd placed Linda Ferga managed twice the A standards (12.95 in final and 12.87 in her heat), 3rd placed Nicole Ramalanirina (13.00), never went below 12.96. Thus, the third qualifying spot will go to 4th placed Haydy Aron (13.04 today but 12.92 on 12 July in Malles, Italy).

There was also a lot at stake in the men’s 3000m steeplechase with no fewer than five athletes already possessing the A standard. Having secured his spot since he tied the European record at Paris Golden League, Bouabdallah Tahri preferred to take part in the 1500m instead (where he finished 3rd in 3:39.80).

The two remaining spots are likely to go to Vincent Ledauphin who won the race in 8:25.68 and to 2nd placed Frédéric Denis (8:30.62) after Adil El Oualidi faded to 8th in 8:43.79.

Laurent Hernu experienced late relief with his 8184 points victory in the decathlon after two disappointing performances in Götzis and in the European Cup of Combined events. As for world indoor bronze medallist, Marie Collonvillé, she didn’t succeed in her attempt to come back after a thighbone fracture contracted during the spring as she withdrew after five events.

The male pole vaulters were left unsatisfied after hurling winds prevented them from reaching high heights. Romain Mesnil logically won with 5.60m ahead of Belgium’s Thibaud Duval, his little-known team-mate Alexandre Barbaud (5.75m this season) and Alain Andji who cleared 5.50m.

Driss El Himer, who is preparing for the marathon, had an easy win in the 5000m in 13:34.97.

While he was on his way to yet another French title in the 400m, Marc Raquil (45.89) didn’t even try to catch up on Eric Milazar of Mauritius who dominated the race in 45.28. He had no reason to worry : “I’ve been through a difficult month. I only resumed training recently so I lacked speed. But the world championships are still one month away.”

Other significant results by foreign athletes invited to the championships, were the 18.66m achieved in the shot put by New Zealand’s and current world junior champion Valerie Adams, and 51.12 by Senegalese Fatou Bintou Fall in the 400m.

The French selection for the World championships is to be released on Tuesday.

Full results available at:

Carole Fuchs for the IAAF