Niort, France The third and final day of National Championships was the last stop for the best French athletes before IAAF World Championships in Osaka (25 August – 2 September). Taking advantage of the warm conditions, Muriel Hurtis-Houairi, Eunice Barber and Ladji Doucouré confirmed their ascending form winning in fine style their respective events.
Despite run-up problems, Barber takes Long Jump title with 6.66m leap
Barber, as a former World champion in the Heptathlon and Long Jump, always has the chance to contest a sprint, jump or throw at any competition, according to her feeling, physical state and place in her preparation, while still deciding whether she will chose the Long Jump or Heptathlon at the World Championships. She was eager to erase her bad performance from her last Long Jump competition, 6.37 three weeks ago, when struggling with a hamstring injury in her right leg. In Niort, her first five attempts were erratic - foul / 6.19 (wind +0.8) / 6.47 (+1.7) / 6.35 (+0.8) / 6.42 (-0.3). In third position behind Lauranne Osse (6.55) and Heptathlete Marie Collonvillé (5.53), Barber finally manage to produce the big jump with her last attempt, 6.66 (wind +1.7), still 22cm off the board.
“I had to start the competition very cautiously because I feel pains during take-off,” said Barber, 32. “I gained confidence after each attempt. The final performance is not extraordinary but I’m happy with that. I will now practice the other Heptathlon events and will make my choice later with my coach Bob Kersee.”
Arron scratches, Hurtis-Houairi takes 200 title unopposed...
Frustration came in the women’s 200m as Christine Arron scratched before the semi-finals and Hurtis-Houairi failed to duplicate her promising 22.38 from the heats. The dual between the two former 4x100m World Champions fell short as Arron, 33, revealed that she is suffering from an infection and prefered to recover instead of running the semi finals, where Hurtis, 28, qualified for the final with the least energy (23.01). Two hours later, Hurtis, unopposed, sailed to the victory in 22.88 (wind +0.2) from Myriam Soumare, 23.44.
“Yesterday, I was surprised with my time (22.38 into -1.6 wind), I was relaxed and let it go, with the pleasant feeling of running fast”, said Hurtis-Houairi, whose personal best of 22.31 dates back to 1999. “I feared that I left too much energy and that’s what happened today. During warm-ups between the two rounds, I felt it and had a slight back pain but it didn’t disturb me during the final. The job has been done and I’m happy overall with my three races. It was good training before Osaka, where I will have to be cautious not to duplicate the mistake I made in the heats, and run my fastest race in the final.” Hurtis won’t compete again before Osaka, and will enter her final training preparation cycle with coach Jacques Piasenta who wishes to leave for Asia as late as possible.
... as Alerte, De Lepine dash to PBs
However, the men’s 200m final saw the dual between long time rivals David Alerte and Eddy De Lepine, who both train in Martinique. Alerte, in lane 6, had the better start and came out of the bend in front. De Lepine, one lane inside, closed the gap but couldn’t catch his 1.92m tall opponent who cruised the straight in a relaxed style. Both set personal bests in the process, 20.33 for Alerte who became the third fastest European performer in 2007, and 20.51 for De Lepine, cutting .2 seconds from his previous best.
“My only goal was to win and defend my title," said the 22-year-old winner, who will have one more opportunity to run faster before Osaka in his next race, planned in La-Chaux-de-Fonds on 12 August. “Now, I’m training with a medal in Osaka as a target. My aim is to pass each round in order to reach the final. Once one gets into the final, who knows what can happen!”
Doucouré, the defending World champion in the 110m Hurdles, is still sharpening his technique. After an easy 13.79 in the heats yesterday, the national record holder (12.97) produced a 13.29 in the semis in spite of a disturbing mistake over the last obstacle. No mistake was allowed in the final as his training partner, Bano Traoré, won the second semi in 13.54. Still, Doucouré came out late from the starting blocks and didn’t open the gap until the last half of the race.
“My plans here were simple : increase power in running each round faster than the other,” Doucouré said. “Concerning the final, I knew it was going to be a real fight, physical. I even touched my lane neighbours’ hands.”
His coach Renaud Longuèvre is confident that his pupil will be ready in Osaka. “Ladji is a competitor. In 2004, his season best prior to the Olympics was 13.35 and he even ran 13.55 in his last competition, and he still managed to run 13.06 in Athens.” Doucouré revealed that it’s difficult to compete while in a trainng cycle. “I’ve just done a cycle focused on strength gains, because I plan to be ready and at my best at the World Championships, my sole objective of the year.”
The finest performance of the day came in the women's Pole Vault, as Vanessa Boslak cleared 4.60 on her third attempt, before just missing three times in an attempt to add a centimetre to her current national record of 4.70 set last year. Her 2007 results had been slowed by her physiotherapy studies, and the 25-year-old is obvioulsy peaking at the right moment.
Fadil Bellaabouss was one of the most surprising winner of these Championships. The national junior record holder at 800m (1:47.21), the 21-year-old is now focusing on the 400m Hurdles and broke his personal best by almost a full second with a 49.58 to get silver at the European U-23 Championships last month. In Niort, his strong finish after the last hurdle left the farourites well behind as he crossed the line ecstatic in 49.29. Olympic bronze medallist and 2007 SPAR European Cup winner Naman Keïta paid for his his fast start and eventually faded to fourth in 49.88.
Laurence Manfredi won a record 13th straigh title in the women's Shot Put, throwing 17.50.
Pierre Jean Vazel for the IAAF