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Friday, 10 August 2012

Christophe Lemaitre disappoints but can Renaud Lavillenie deliver?

When  Christophe Lemaitre first burst on to the scene a couple of years ago the French media heralded him - without even the flutter of an eyelid - as "the world's fastest white man" over 100 metres and the "first white man to run under 10 seconds".

Christophe Lemaitre (screenshot TF1 news report)
It was true and he has since run even faster, breaking his own national record a couple more times in the 100 metres (it now stands at 9.92 seconds) and doing the same in the 200 metres at 19.80 seconds.

So far the 22-year-old has picked up four gold and one bronze medal at European Championships and one silver and a bronze at the World Championships in Daegu South Korea in 2011.

Lemaitre arrived in London for the Olympics with high expectations, choosing to miss the 100 metres and instead concentrating on the 200 metres.

As his coach Pierre Carraz told the French sports daily L'Équipe, it was the event in which they both reckoned Lemaitre stood more of a chance of getting a medal.

Not gold - because to all intents and purposes that was (as with the 100 metres) already "reserved" for Jamaica's Usain Bolt - but at worst a bronze and who knew, maybe even a silver.

The 200 metres was also the event in which Lemaitre won bronze at those World Championships last year.

So there were high hopes of a repeat performance.

And therein lay the problem, as far as media expectations in France were concerned.

In the days running up to the heats and the semi-finals Lemaitre's face was plastered all over the sports pages. He had become the great media hope for some sort of glory in an Olympic games which were fast becoming ones reporters in France would probably prefer to forget.

And after he qualified for the finals, he not surprisingly also became the main headline on television and radio news.

"Christophe Lemaitre goes up against Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake," announced, among many others, Julien Arnaud on TF1's Le Journal a couple of hours before the race.

"Does he have a shot at a medal?"

A good question.

On paper he certainly did, and if you had followed all the interviews with those who knew him  there was a belief that a medal was possible, so high were the hopes of those singing his sporting praises.

After his semi-final, while Lemaitre was waiting so see whether he had qualified for Thursday's final as a fastest runner-up, the ever-annoying Nelson Monfort was also trackside thrusting a microphone in his face, and forcing the man with the slightest of lisps and almost childlike voice to relive his semi, predict his chances and answer any other inane question that entered the veteran journalist's head.

As all that was happening, Bolt walked by having just run and won his semi and Monfort directed his microphone towards the Jamaican.

"Usain - hi," shrieked Monfort in his one-tone nasal voice.

"What's does Christophe have to do to beat you in Thursday's final (repeated by Monfort in French of course because viewers are totally unable to understand such a simple question).

Bolt looked at Monfort and then at Lemaitre before saying without the slightest touch of arrogance (this was in his pre-legend days remember)  "He needs to run faster than me."

Sadly he didn't. Nor, as we now know, did he beat Blake for silver and in fact, it was another Jamaican, Warren Weir who took bronze.

Lemaitre, running in lane 2 and therefore having to cope with his weak point of running the bend on the inside lane ( a race which is run on the bend) could in fact only manage sixth, in a time that was far slower than his fastest.

"I didn't manage to run the sort of race I wanted," he explained afterwards.

"I'm disappointed but there's perhaps still the chance of a medal in the 4x100 metres relay".

And the French media was disappointed.

Its hero hadn't managed to deliver the expected and desired-for goods.

But has a new potential target for Friday and this time the chances of a track and field gold medal in the shape of Renaud Lavillenie in the pole vault.

He's one of the favourites for the event having put in some of the best performances this year.

But the French media seems to be a little more circumspect in predicting the outcome...with the wind conditions in the Olympic stadium already being proposed as a potential spoiler to the event.

In other words if it's not the bend (for Lemaitre)  then perhaps it'll be the wind for Lavillenie.

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