Michael Johnson, Bob Beamon and Donovan Bailey in Paris, pose behind a minature of the Statue of Liberty (DPPI / S.Kempinaire) © Copyright
General News Paris, France

Gallery of ‘Immortals’ to celebrate the 10th Anniversary of the Paris meeting of ÅF Golden League

The Meeting Gaz de France Paris Saint-Denis – the fourth of this year’s six meetings which make up the ÅF Golden League 2008 is set ‘to party’ in style, and has invited some of the greatest names of the sport of track and field athletics to enjoy the moment.

The occasion?

The 2008 edition of the Meeting Gaz de France Paris Saint-Denis, which takes place this year on Friday 18 July, marks the 10th Anniversary of the fixture in its present guise.

In recognition of the anniversary, the location of meeting HQ has been moved from a hotel on the peripheries of Charles de Gaulle airport to centre of the French capital at a hotel next to the Eiffel Tower, and the organisers have invited a distinguished list of ‘immortals’ from the sport’s history to match the prestigious location and the notable occasion.

All of the VIP guests have been Olympic gold medallists during their distinguished careers: Canadian Donovan Bailey (100m), Moroccan Hicham El Guerrouj (1500m), Americans Michael Johnson (200/400m) and Bob Beamon (Long Jump), Czech Jan Zelezny (Javelin Throw), Russia’s Svetlana Masterkova (800m / 1500m), and Greece’s Paraskevi Patoulidou (100m Hurdles).

Three others, USA’s Ed Moses (400m Hurdles), French heroine Marie-José Pérec (200m/400m), and Bulgaria’s Stefka Kostadinova (High Jump) which would have brought the number up to an ideally planned 10, in recognition of the tenth anniversary and the ten Golden League Jackpot events, have unfortunately had to cancel their trips recently.

In any case the Stade de France will not be short of heroes on Friday (18) as the international stars of yesteryear who have arrived will be officially hosted in the stadium by four prestigious winning names from French Olympic history: Alain Mimoun (Marathon), Guy Drut (110m Hurdles), Pierre Quinon (Pole Vault) and Jean Galfione (Pole Vault).

Major annual athletics fixtures in the French capital of course go back longer than 10 years but the meeting as it stands today, the Meeting Gaz de France Paris Saint-Denis was born in 1999 from the fusion of two Parisian meetings. On the one hand the Saint-Denis Meeting in the Auguste Delaune stadium, and the other the Paris Meeting which took place in Charléty stadium.

Though the two meetings didn’t officially become one entity until 31 March 2000, the first action was played out in front of a crowd of 57,724 on Saturday 3 July 1999 in the Stade de France - the inauguration of the stadium’s athletics track - with Gaz de France as title sponsor, and the meeting has never looked back reaching its present record attendance of 70,253 spectators on 1 July 2005.

It’s really good to sit here and hang out with them

Today’s (16) opening press conference in the four-star meeting hotel, the Novotel Paris Tour Eiffel, brought together three of the aforementioned champions, Donovan Bailey, Bob Beamon and Michael Johnson.

Beamon, the Olympic Long Jump record holder (8.90m), yes its easy to forget that while the 1968 champion lost his World record to fellow American Mike Powell in 1991, the 62-year-old still holds the Olympic mark, summed up the moment:

“Simply it’s great to be here to celebrate the tenth birthday of this incredible meet. I understand that there going to be some records set and some great performances on Friday and I will be here to witness them, but (turning to Johnson and Bailey) its great also to be here with the guys who took the 100, 200m and 400m to another plateau. It’s really good to sit here and hang out with them.”

Both Johnson and Bailey reciprocated saying how exciting it was to be here for such anniversary and to see some of the ‘old faces’ once more. They were also in good humour especially when the former was asked ‘how he liked being the coach of Jeremy Wariner?’, and the latter whether he ‘wouldn’t he like to be running the 100m here on Friday?’

Johnson, who manages Wariner, quickly replying, ‘for the record I do not coach Jeremy, I got to be very careful you know you’ll get me into a lot of trouble. I represent him and mentor him and try to help as much as possible.” Bailey for his answer said getting him back into a lane on Friday “would cost a few million dollars!”

Bolt has the ability to be the greatest ever athlete

And with the Olympics in mind, who did Bailey, who became 1996 Olympic 100m champion with a World record, feel would win the 100m title in Beijing?

“Well Asafa (Powell) has had a couple of shots to win gold (World and Olympic) and he’s failed, but now he’s lost the record he might actually be the guy who is not under so much pressure and could win.”

“Tyson (Gay) is the World champion and proven and could be the guy because he’s tried and tested very well at major championship level but he could be under a lot of pressure.”

“Then there is Usain (Bolt). He’s a competitive soldier, he’s untested at least at the 100m anyway, but he seems very much like he is unafraid of anything. I’m just looking forward to being in the (Commentary) box and watching these three.”

“Bolt’s a 200m, 400m guy, he’s tall and strong and I believe the running of rounds at the Olympics will help him.”

“Also the rest are going to have to make flawless starts for Usain not to catch them because when he’s in the middle of his race he has a massive stride length especially when he hits top speed at about the 70 metres point.”

“Bolt has the ability at the moment to recreate track and field and to be the biggest track and field athlete ever, to go sub 9.7, and I don’t want even think of his capability at 200m, its got to be sub-19,” concluded Bailey.

Chris Turner for the IAAF