What chance does France’s Leslie Djhone have of imposing himself on the world’s best 400m specialists led by Jeremy Wariner USA in the run-in to this summer’s 11th IAAF World Championships in Athletics, Osaka, Japan?
Though still smarting from failure in Gothenburg where he ’only’ took European bronze when favourite to win, Djhone is looking forward to the new season, but only as a means of looking even further ahead to the Beijing Olympic Games of 2008: “I’m already thinking of the Games,” he told athle.com recently. “But at world level it’s frightening, and if I want to get onto the podium in Osaka this summer, I’m going to have to break my French record.”
It is, by any standards, a tall order. That record stands at 44.64 from three years ago and last summer alone seven athletes were faster or equal to that time. On the Frenchman’s side, though, is the fact that only three Americans can go to Osaka. This coming season they will have half an eye on their national championships and the need to peak twice, a situation they did not have to confront last summer which was relatively relaxing for them.
Everything collapsed about me
It is not too harsh a judgement to say that Djhone was one of the disappointments of the European Athletics Championships in Gothenburg last summer. Indeed, the athlete himself shares the general belief of thwarted expectation.
A full tenth of a second faster than anyone else in the field going into the championships, the smooth running machine out of Abidjan in the Ivory Coast failed to withstand the flailing arms of countryman Marc Raquil and the shock element of upstart Russian Valdimir Frolov.
“I’ve watched the race a thousand times. I wasn’t in it. Neither at the beginning, nor the end. The problem is that for the first time in my life I was the favourite for a race and not to win it means my career has not changed. I can’t get better lane draws in the big meetings, nor have my bonuses changed. I based my whole season on winning the title and when I didn’t everything collapsed about me.”
Consistency the goal
At 25, Djhone has barely tapped into his talent and clearly has room for improvement. His aims for 2007 are to take himself to a new level as a springboard for better things: “I want to get back under 45 seconds in order to bring out a peak performance. I want to achieve a consistency between 44.80 and 45 seconds and the rest will come,” he says.
In preparation he has been out to South Africa together with Raquil, amongst others, where he picked up a slight irritation, a bursitis in the knee, which does not appear to have affected his running.
With a view to concentrating on the outdoor season, Djhone has not set his sights on competing indoors this winter, unless there is a last minute change of heart. The only possibility he sees right now, is helping out the relay squad in the European Indoor Championships in Birmingham in March. There at least he has touched the heights with gold from the 2003 IAAF World Championships bringing him a part-share in the national record. And in Gothenburg he added the European relay title. But it is not in his plans to contest the French Indoor Championships for a one-lap outing.
Michael Butcher for the IAAF