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Updated 25 August 2010
Amy Mbacké THIAM, Senegal (400m)
Born 10 November 1976, Kaolack area
1.83m / 70kg
Coach: Hervé Stéphan
A child full of energy, Amy Mbacke Thiam is remembered for running around a lot and for her passion for football. Her potential was spotted in 1992 by her secondary school teacher, Mouhamadou Lamine Camara, who followed closely the girl able to defeat boys in middle-distance races wearing plastic shoes or running barefoot.
In 1995, for her second trip to the Senegalese capital, Dakar- about 180km away - Thiam finished 4th in the 400m at the national championships. Impressed by the 4x400m team of the Dal Diop club, she requested to join the group and soon moved to Dakar, where she stayed with her grandmother. After a year there, she dropped out from high school to focus only on sports.
Benefiting from emulation and better training conditions, Thiam lowered her best time from 56.0 in 1995 to 53.25 in 1997, which earned her a spot among the 12 athletes recruited for the launch of the Dakar High Performance Training Centre (HPTC), which was set up under the IAAF initiative to help budding African sprinters and jumpers develop into high level athletes on their home soil.
Under the supervision of Frenchman Dr. Hervé Stéphan and Cameroon's Emmanuel Bitanga, Thiam gained the opportunity to compete on the European circuit. She broke the Senegalese record for the first time in July 1998 (51.60) and had a first taste of international competition when she was 4th in the African Championships in 1998.
In 2009, Thiam then went on to finish 7th in her semi-final at the World Championships in Sevilla (50.77) and 3rd at the All Africa Games. At the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Thiam again managed to be 7th in her semi-final despite a preparation hampered by shin splints.
Injured again in early 2001, she got back in the saddle by winning the Francophone Games, in Ottawa, with a 50.92 seasonal best just before heading to the World Championships in Edmonton.
In three days and three races, Thiam switched gears with two national records (50.21 and 49.86), dominating all her opponents and climaxed with an almost undreamed of last surge to clinch the World title over Jamaica's Lorraine Fenton (49.88) and Mexico's Ana Guevara (49.97). The first Senegalese to win a world title in any sport, instantly she became a national hero. The following month in Brisbane, she finished 3rd at the Goodwill Games.
2002 did not live up to expectations. Injuries again delayed Thiam’s debut and she failed to impress with a season's best of 50.96 in Monaco. She could not even save her season with a selection for the World Cup, having to pull out of the Final of the African Championships, in Tunis, because her thigh was too painful.
As training in Senegal became more difficult because of too many distractions, Thiam decided to change her preparation. After winning her world title she was no longer merely an athlete but an instant national heroine, complete with advantages and drawbacks. Inevitably as a star, she was invited everywhere - wanted for radio, TV shows, and marketing operations.
Benefiting from an Olympic scholarship, she left Dakar HPTC and moved to Sherbrooke (Canada), where she stayed four months before linking up with her Dakar team mates and coaches at their French summer training base.
However, in the build-up to the 2003 World Championships in Paris, her prospects did not look good. She suffered Injury and the onset of tonsillitis – which would blight her in 2004 – and she lost precious training and recovery time while having to deal with visa procedures to travel abroad to compete. Yet, once again, Thiam surpassed herself to run her best race of the year when it mattered most, preserving the bronze medal in Paris on the finish line (49.95).
2004 was again a bad year. Suffering tonsillitis and dental problems, the Senegalese flag bearer was a shadow of herself in the heats of the Athens Olympics and had to pull out of the 4x400m after having two teeth taken out during the competition.
Following the fiasco, she put an end to her Canadian experience and reunited in Paris with her former coach Hervé Stéphan, retired from Dakar HPTC. Under his direction, Thiam got back to 13th position in the 2005 World Top lists (50.69) and reached the Final of the World Championships in Helsinki (8th in 52.22). She then placed 4th in the World Athletics Final the following month in a seasonal best of 50.69 before she finally had surgery to solve her tonsillitis problem.
In 2006, her physical problems finally behind her, Thiam ran below 51 seconds three times (50.86 in Belem on 21 May, 50.54 in Saint-Denis on 8 July and 50.55 in Rome on 14 July). Well above the others contestants in Africa, she was the expected winner of the African Championships in Bambous, Mauritius, on 11 August but the Senegalese confessed it was harder than expected because of the strong headwind and a thigh spasm sustained mid-race. She then pulled out of the remaining legs of the Golden League needing some rest to prepare for the World Cup in Athens, but the huge bends in lane 9, disturbed Thiam, who could place no higher than 6th in 51.39.
2007 had been one of Thiam’s most promising seasons. With 7 performances below 51 seconds and a season’s best of 50.15 from the Golden League meeting in Rome, she was ranked 7th in the World Top lists going to Osaka for the World Championships, a feat never recorded prior to a major world event. However, the year climaxed in drama with her premature exit in the heats in Japan.
Thiam’s regained shape had been derailed following her absence at the All-African Games in Algiers, in July, which she attributed to not being provided with a plane ticket on time. A suspended 6-month ban by the Senegalese federation just before the World Championship affected her psychologically to the point that she exploded during the heats, finishing a poor 7th in 54.31. Her subsequent slamming of Senegalese athletics authorities in front of the world media in the mixed zone landed her a one year suspension, annihilating her Olympic ambitions.
Thiam’s suspension was finally lifted in May 2008 after long negotiations and backstage maneuvers. However after 8 months without competition, it was too late for Thiam to get back into shape. After a couple pacemaking jobs for the 800m and a few poor outings in the 400m (53.48 SB mid July), the Senegalese drew the curtain on her season.
At 32, she could have called it a day, but with the support of long term coach Hervé Stéphan, she got back to serious training and achieved a solid 2009 indoor season (23.56 new national record in the 200m, and 52.51 on her best distance, three hundredths short of her indoor national record). Though her 2009 times were not up to the level of her best years, Thiam achieved some good performances (victory in Milano in 50.86 on 25 June, and two 3rd places in Rome on 10 July (50.71) and Athens on 13 July (50.72). She however had to settle for one second slower for 5th in her semi-final at the World Championships in Berlin (51.70).
In 2010, Thiam only went below 52 once before the African Championships (51.48 in Tomblaine on June 25). Moving away from world level, the Senegalese is no longer a match for African leader Amantle Montsho of Botswana, who claimed the continental title unchallenged in 50.03. But Thiam showed that she still remains a key player in Africa, claiming silver in 51.32 to earn a second selection in the African team for the Continental Cup.
1995: 56.0; 1996: 54.40; 1997: 53.25; 1998: 51.60; 1999: 50.77; 2000: 50.88; 2001: 49.86; 2002: 50.96; 2003: 49.95; 2004: 50.82; 2005: 50.69; 2006: 50.54; 2007: 50.15; 2008: 53.48; 2009; 50.71; 2010: 51.32
1999 sf World Championships (50.77)
1999 3rd All Africa Games (50.95)
2000 sf Olympic Games (51.60)
2001 1st World Championships (49.86)
2001 3rd Goodwill Games (51.25)
2003 3rd World Championships (49.95)
2004 h Olympic Games (52.44)
2005 8th World Championships (52.22)
2005 4th World Athletics Final (50.69)
2006 1st African Championships (52.22)
2007 h World Championships (54.31)
2009 sf World Championships (51.70)
2010 2nd African Championships (51.32)
Prepared by Carole Fuchs for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project. © IAAF 2006-2010.