24 January 2007Since the introduction of the World Junior Championships in 1986, three French athletes have claimed that global title: pole vaulter Jean Galfione in 1990, and sprinters Sylviane Félix and Muriel Hurtis, who won the 200m titles in 1996 and 1998, respectively. On 20 August of last year, triple jumper Benjamin Compaoré became the fourth on that list, beginning an international career during which he hopes to become as successful as his predecessors, as the others athletes all became either Olympic or world champions later.
From judo to jumping
Born in Strasbourg on 5 August 1987, from Burkinabese parents, Compaoré discovered athletics at the age of six, taking part in all races, jumps and throws. In the meantime, he had already started judo to emulate his elder brother, a sport that Benjamin practiced for four years. Training at ASPTT Strasbourg, like middle-distance star Mehdi Baala, his specialisation in the horizontal jumps came when he was about 15, with a preference for the Long Jump.
“In these age categories, it’s easier to perform better in the Long Jump, so I naturally focused on the event where I had better results,” recalls the 1m88 and 82kg Compaoré. However, his rapid improvements in the Triple Jump progressively changed his mind. A 12.20m jumper in 2002, he smashed his personal best every successive year: to 14.50 in 2003, 15.48 in 2004, 16.00 in 2005, and 16.61 in 2006. “I learned to appreciate the Triple Jump, especially the second phase, the ‘step’, where I sometimes manage to feel like an airplane.”
From the beginning of his career, Compaoré reckons he has always dreamed about winning a gold medal. Coached from his debut by Nicolas Delpech, he missed selection for the 2004 World Junior Championships, but the following year he placed himself as a strong contender for European Junior title. Leader after the qualification with a wind-aided 16.12m, Compaoré was the shadow of himself in final where he finished fifth with a 15.81m leap.
Major changes and sacrifice lead to 2006 success
The preparation for the 2006 season saw many important events in Compaoré’s life, beginning with a move to Paris after having met Jean-Hervé Stievenart.
“In Strasbourg, school usually ended late in the evening so I had to train afterwards, and this organisation was difficult for me. I then chose to come to Paris with a successful Triple Jump coach in order to have the possibility to study and train properly. It was a big change because I left my long time coach who gave me so much and also my parents and friends. These are a lot of sacrifices which keeps me humble.”
The pupil successfully passed his Bachelor exam in June, while preparing for the World Junior Championships in Beijing. Travelling outside Europe for the first time in his life, Compaoré was shocked when arriving in China.
“I was stunned by the hot and humid weather and the noise at the airport. The adaptation to this new country was still okay, the French team came 10 days before the start of the championships, so the first week was a kind of holiday. Visiting the town, having fun with friends and relaxing before beginning the competition, all this helped me a lot.”
Despite nerves, pushed to personal best in Beijing final
He followed the training plan his coach gave him in Paris and was confident in his abilities. “I didn’t sleep before the event because I couldn’t wait to jump, and I couldn’t wait to win,” he laughs. Suffering from a slight leg muscle tear, he took advantage of it, relaxing during the run-up with ample and supple strides, and managed to match his personal best of 16.34m on his first jump during the qualification. “I placed myself in the same position as the year before when I failed in final after leading the qualification, thus I used that 2005 experience as a motivation to show that I was capable of winning.”
“While I was extremely relaxed for all those days,” he continued, “I suddenly felt the pressure in my stomach when the speaker announced my name during the athlete presentation before the final. I then realised that it was the big show.”
Compaoré soon found Hugo Chila - the Ecuadorian who a month earlier produced the world’s best junior jump of 16.55m – a tough rival, who pushed the Frenchman to produce the best jump during the third round, a 16.61m effort to beat Chila by 12 centimetres. “Chila was very nice during the competition. I wish I spoke Spanish in order to have more exchange with him, and I hope to meet him again next season.”
Continually seeking his shortcomings
Concerning his sensational personal best improvement year after year, Compaoré doesn’t put limits on himself; conversely he seeks out and finds his many shortcomings.
“Stieve helped me to improve my speed but the work is still in progress,” reckons Compaoré, whose personal bests in the sprints are 7.25 for 60m indoors and 11.25 for the 100m from 2005. He plans to take part to some sprint races this summer to improve his speed. With the technical considerations of his specialty, he sees shortcomings in the last jump and landing phases. “I don’t lock my leading knee forward and I land standing on the sand,” he analyses. “Even in my winning jump in Beijing, I lost centimetres in letting my hand or my leg behind me as I landed.”
Along with all the work done, Compaoré still relies on his natural power, which he’s worked on in the weight room from the age of 15. He believes that his main quality is his strong mental strength. “It enables me to delivers a big jump when it counts under the opponent’s pressure, and at training, it’s easier to understand and stabilise the new technical drills.”
The new World Junior Champion visited Burkina Faso for the first time ever during the Christmas holidays and was honoured by the “Nuit du Mérite” prize on 23 December. His return to training was on a much more intense level this year than last, as he aims to be selected to the French squad for the European Indoor Championships in Birmingham.
Pierre Jean Vazel for the IAAF