Paris Saint-Denis Preview

Over 70 000 Spectators Expected!

The organisers of the Meeting Gaz de France Paris Saint-Denis are approaching the home straight. There are just over two weeks till the big evening, Friday 1st July 2005, when the Stade de France will play host to the first leg of the Golden League. All systems are go…the entertainment, the ticketing and the line up… They’re entering the final sprint, concentrated but perfectly relaxed.

On this occasion the Stade de France will be even more deserving of its new name of " Paris 2012 ". Ideally situated five days before the IOC’s vote for the host city for the 2012 Games, the meeting intends to demonstrate its support for the Paris bid through the public, and beyond the French population. A unique programme was put in place last spring to enable spectators to display their " Amour des Jeux " (Love of the Games). When purchasing their seats, the public discover that their tickets reveal the colour that they are invited to wear on the evening of the 1st July 2005. Red, yellow, blue, black and green, the colours of the five rings on the Olympic flag. At 1730 GMT, a show that will be packed with surprises, will set the whole stadium alight; offering encouragement to the Paris 2012 delegation before they set off for Singapore.

The scene is likely to be spectacular. It will be if the spectators agree to play the game and wear the required colour in the stadium. Henri Sérandour, president of the CNOSF (French National Olympic and Sports Committee), one of the key players in the Paris bid, makes no secret of it : " A display of this scale, so close to the final decision, is not just about keeping up the pressure, but it also, once again, show the abilities of the French in terms of the organisation of major sporting events. Above all else though it will prove the public’s enthusiasm for athletics and Olympic sports ".

With two weeks to go until the meeting, there is no question as to the enthusiasm for the event. Unique in the history books and already extremely popular, over 70 000 spectators are expected to the event this time around. With two weeks until the big day, there are now just a few more tickets left. The new world record for attendance at an athletics meeting, held by the Paris-based Stade de France last year (63 851 spectators) is likely to be smashed.

The reasons ? Incentives for ticket purchasing by athletics clubs and sports councils ensuring the presence of young athletes. All tickets bought before the 31 May being offered at the unique price of 15 Euros. The growing interest of the French public in major sporting events, clearly demonstrated over past weeks in the rugby stadiums, or along the Champs Elysées, on Sunday 5 June during the day of support for the Paris 2012 bid.

Finally, the line-up, is gradually defining itself. Each day brings its share of confirmations by some of the greatest names in world athletics. Discussions with Asafa Powell have reached an advanced stage, the mens 100 m world recordholder likely to be racing his favourite distance. Leslie Djhone is set to hit the track again for the 400 m, an event that he won last year. Bernard Lagat , now an American citizen, will be heading an impressive group of African 1500m specialists, a distance over which Mehdi Baala , very much on form at the moment, may be able to pull something out of the bag. The young French athlete, Mounir Yemmouni will be seeking to benefit from the pace to improve on his recent personal best (3’33’‘39). Kenenisa Bekele is likely to smash the official times for the 5000 m and the two young prodigies targetting the record in the 110 m are Chinese athlete Xiang Liu , Olympic champion in Athens, and French athlete Ladji Doucouré , author of a phenomenal 13’'14 for his first run of the summer. Swedish athlete Stefan Holm , is another competitor to keep an eye on in the high jump, after clearing 2.40 m during an indoor event in March.

There is the same fantastic show of strength in the women’s events : Christine Arron in the 100 m, Tonique Darling-Williams and Ana Guevara at 400 m, Maria Mutola in the 800 m, Werknesh Kidane and Isabella Ochichi over 3000 m, Linda Ferga-Khodadin in the 100 m hurdles, Tatiana Lebedeva and Françoise MBango in the triple jump. With six weeks until the World Championships in Helsinki, the leading French athletes, made up of both the experienced and rookies, will have a fantastic opportunity to confirm their promises from the start of the season and meet their public on the track of the Stade de France.

The event will crack off with an emotional presentation of the gold medals in the 4x400 m World Championships 2003 to Stéphane Diagana, Naman Keita, Leslie Djhone and Marc Raquil. Second, behind the United States on the day of the race, the French relay team will finally pick up their gold medals, the American foursome’s win later being disallowed following a positive drugs test from one of the athletes. Nearly two years on, the four new world champions will take the top step of the podium, on the same ground as the the original event.