The top two French athletes, Teddy Tamgho and Renaud Lavillenie, spoke to the press ahead of their final IAAF Diamond League appearance of 2013 at the Belgacom Memorial Van Damme.
This will be Tamgho’s first Triple Jump competition since the IAAF World Championships in Moscow where he went to third on the world all-time list with his winning leap of 18.04m.
The Diamond Race in his event is already guaranteed to go to Olympic champion Christian Taylor, but if anything that helps to take the pressure off Tamgho.
Not that a World champion should have anything left to prove anyway.
“I'm in good shape. I don't know if it's enough to jump like I did in Moscow, but I'm feeling good and the track in Brussels is very fast, like Moscow's track,” said Tamgho.
The 24-year-old won in Brussels in 2010 and tomorrow he is expected to challenge the meeting record of 17.60m, set by Jonathan Edwards back in 1995 – the year in which the Briton won the World title and current World record.
But it is another mark set by Edwards that has now become one of the biggest talking points for Tamgho.
“First I want to enjoy my title,” said Tamgho when asked about the possibility of breaking Edwards’ 18.29m World record. “I also have to improve myself and approach 18 metres again before I think of the World record.
“I have to take it step-by-step and work on my speed; I think that's the key. Jonathan Edwards jumped 18.29m and he was very fast and conserved his speed through each phase.
“To improve, I think I have to keep the two first phases like I did in Moscow, but I have to make the last jump longer. On my last attempt in Moscow I wasn't running at 100 per cent; I need to do that to keep the first two phases and make them last longer, then I'd jump farther on the last phase. 6.58m is good for the last phase, but I think I can jump farther.”
Tamgho registered three no-jumps in the Moscow final, all of them seemingly around the 18-metre mark. He also had some huge fouls in some of his other Diamond League appearances this season, namely in Birmingham and Lausanne.
“I don't know which of my no-jumps this season were the best,” said Tamgho, who will end his season at the Francophone Games next week in Nice. “I know my jump in Birmingham was over 18 metres but I don't know the exact distance.”
Injury had prevented Tamgho from competing at the two global championships prior to this year’s World Championships, but the London 2012 Olympic Games still proved to be a formative experience.
“I was in the stadium for the qualification round and the final at the Olympics last year,” he said. “It was a very exciting competition and it was great to see Christian Taylor win; he was the best triple jumper in 2012. But at that moment I told myself that I have to work hard to win against him again.
“I think the break helped me to come back stronger. Before, I was like a kid and I'd get excited very easily, but now I am more mature and more confident.
“The event is very strong. Taylor is close to 18 metres. He could jump 18 metres tomorrow or next week. He's a threat for me. The Cuban guy (Pedro Pablo Pichardo) is very young and has already jumped 17.69m.”
Tamgho’s team-mate Lavillenie came away from Moscow feeling nothing but frustration. The outstanding favourite for the gold medal in the Pole Vault, Lavillenie found that his run-up extended on to the track itself, meaning he had to try to fit his attempts around the track events so as not to cause an obstruction.
Although he cleared the same height as eventual winner Raphael Holzdeppe at 5.89m, Lavillenie’s record was littered with failures and he lost the gold medal on count-back to the German.
“The problem at the World Championships was that the runway was simply too short for the best vaulters in the world and I had to start my run-up from lane three,” said Lavillenie. “I was the only one to use a 20-step approach, but Holzdeppe and some others had an 18-step approach, so they weren't affected.
“Because of that, I always had to keep an eye on what was happening on the track. There were a lot of disturbances and I couldn't focus properly. When the 400m was starting, the athletes were very close to us. It was a big problem.
“The World Championships isn't just a normal meeting, so it shouldn't have had such conditions. The situation wasn’t conducive to jumping high and I was very sad about that. I've been to hundreds of meetings in different stadiums around the world and I've never encountered that problem before.”
It was the second major disappointment this year in a championships final for Lavillenie. At this year’s European Athletics Indoor Championships in Gothenburg he seemingly cleared 6.07m but moments later it was deemed a foul as the bar had landed on the upright holders as opposed to the pegs.
Although he still came away with the gold medal on that occasion, the devastation for Lavillenie was huge.
“This winter my 6.07m jump was refused because of a technicality in the rules. Then at the World Championships I didn't have the conditions to be able to jump as I have done all season. Both of those disappointments have been due to things beyond my control, so I'm very disappointed about that,” he said.
“Each time it felt as though I was fighting against the rules or the conditions. It's very difficult, but that's the sport. But now it is all in the past and I am getting ready for the future.”
The immediate future for Lavillenie could see him win the Diamond Race as he leads the standings ahead of the Van Damme Memorial on Friday; then next week he will make his Decathlon debut at the Decastar Meeting in Talence.
Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF