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Christophe Lemaitre created the headline at the French Championships held in Valence on 8-10 July, with national records at 100m (9.98) and 200m (20.16). Renaud Lavillenie cleared a world-leading 5.94m in the Pole Vault and Teddy Tamgho triple jumped 17.64 (w+2.9), reinforcing their favourite status three weeks before the European Championships in Barcelona (26 July-1 August).
Christophe Lemaitre's historical record at 100m on Friday was as much anticipated (see related story) as his 200m the following day was surprising. Although he won the World Junior title in 2008, he has lined up sparingly at 200m, with four competitions in 2009 and two in 2010, including a personal best of 20.56. That performance wasn't representative of his true level as it was run into a 1.8m/s wind but his potential remained unknown and in Valence, he was facing David Alerte, a World finalist in Berlin last year who had been impressive in his semi-final with a relaxed 20.62.
Lemaitre’s next target: sub-20
Lemaitre qualified for the final in 20.58 after an erratic bend. One hour later, Lemaitre, in lane 5, was ideally placed with Alerte in line of sight and had the best start. Alerte ran the best bend overall but the young prodigy injected an acceleration with 120m to go and entered the homestretch in front. His lead increased until the finish line, and the time, 20.16, matched the previous national record set by Gilles Quénéhervé in 1987. Lemaitre also bettered the U23 European record previousl held by Christian Malcolm at 20.19 since 2000.
“I really was surprised to come out of the bend in front of David,” the winner said. “A usual I just wanted to run at 100% and win the title, and eventually it turned out that I did a good time, even if I would have preferred to break the French record.”
“Coming into Valence, I was thinking more about the 100m record, which was more important than the 200m because I only ran a few 200m and I needed competitions to know my real level.”
“If I continue to improve can break the 20 seconds,” Lemaitre said. “Now I'm dead tired but this was good preparation before Barcelona . My next race will be the 100m in Paris Saint-Denis Diamond League against the World's best.” Lavillenie’s momentum continues
Coming from Lausanne two days after his third Samsung Diamond League victory, Renaud Lavillenie remained unbeaten in Pole Vault for the eighth competition in a row. Facing a fierce opposition with Romain Mesnil (World silver medallist last year), Jerome Clavier and Damiel Dossevi, a confident Lavillenie entered the competition with the highest bar, 5.55m, which he cleared pm his second attempt. His next jump came at 5.70m, cleared on his first try, while Mesnil and Clavier managed with their second. Dossevi, failing twice, saved a last attempt at 5.75m which he eventually cleared to stay alive. Lavillenie passed, while Mesnil and Clavier failed with their first jumps. The competition then entered into a tactical game.
Lavillenie had no problem with 5.80m, however, Dossevi failed three times to bow out. Clavier had saved his last two attempts but was unsuccessful and was ranked fourth with 5.70m. Mesnil, saved his ultimate chance for a 5.85m but couldn't clear and finished third at 5.70m, behind Dossevi’s 5.75m.
Alone in the competition, Lavillenie asked for 5.94m, three centimetres over Steve Hooker's world lead and one over Jean Galfione's French championships record. He only needed one try to master the height, and then asked for 6.02m to improve his own national record.
“During these championships, performances were popping up around the stadium and it was exciting, so my goal was to break a record too,” said Lavillenie, who had three unsuccessful but promising attempts at 6.02m. “I'm still in progress and my preparation is optimal for Barcelona. Foremost, I'm more calm than last year.”
Tamgho overcomes cramps to take Triple Jump title
Teddy Tamgho was less at ease than Lavillenie, but still impressive in the Triple Jump despite some cramping during his warm-up. The competition featured a dual between the last two World junior champions in the event, Benjamin Compaoré in 2006 and Tamgho in 2008.
The elder took the lead with a first attempt at 17.12m (+2.1), which he improved to 17.28m (+2.1), and a foul jump close to 18 metres. Tamgho had no other choice but to reply with 17.64m with his third attempt (+2.9), after two bad jumps hampered by cramps.
“Benjamin pushed me to jump and I did 17.64 only using strength, which is wrong,” Tamgho said. “I was thinking about 18 metres today but I would have needed more speed. My goal is to erase every risk of cramps and injuries before Barcelona.”
Tahri edges Mekhissi-Benabbad in Euro champs warm-up
The 3000m Steeplechase offered another great dual between 2009 World bronze medallist Bouabdellah Tahri and 2008 Olympic silver medallist Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad. Both currently into an intensive preparation period, they had to place in the top two positions in order to ensure their selection for Barcelona.
In their first dual since Zürich on 28 August 2008, where Mekhissi finished second and Tahri fifth, they chose a very slow pace due to the hot conditions (35°). Mekhissi, in the middle of the pack, and Tahri, in last position, didn't seem concerned about the various spectacular attacks in front. During the last kilometre, both progressively took the lead and ran the last lap side by side, virtually in the same stride. They didn't begin to sprint until the last barrier before Tahri dipped into the finish in 8:30.46 just in front of Mekhissi’s 8:30.53, after a 59.0 last lap.
“The important today was not to win but participate,” the winner said. “But my last national title was in 1998 so this is good to take. Of course, we both are favourites for Barcelona but today clearly was not the European championships final.”
Mekhissi concurred. “Today was a kind of a repetition of the European championships heats. I made several mistakes over the obstacle and I attacked too late in the race. Anyway, I'm not worried but I will pay attention to all the competitors, not only Bob.”
Salim Sdiri's shape is coming together at the right time as he long jumped 8.28, the longest by an European this year, but the wind (+3.1) was blowing over the legal limit. He could not better the mark achieved on his first attempt, as he fouled three times and confirmed with 8.16m (+2.2), and took unpaid risks in the last attempt with 7.94m (+0.7).
“I will have to duplicate what I did today in qualification in Barcelona,” Sdiri said. “The minimum I'm expecting is a podium after my fourth place at World Indoors in March.”
The women’s 100m saw two comebacks in Véronique Mang and Christine Arron. Mang took the title in 11.16 (+3.2), after her 11.25 in semi-final (+0.3). Away from training for several years, Mang said she is now fully taking pleasure on the track.
“I'm the national champion of pleasure!” she said, smiling after her victory. “I appreciate to have opposition, this boosts my performances.”
The opposition came from Arron, now 36, back after a hip stress fracture and surgery, who qualified for her first European championships since 1998, when she broke set the current European record of 10.73. Her second place in 11.27, after a 11.30 in semi-final (0.4) was a satisfying, she said. “Of course, I'm not running the times I used to, but I’m gradually finding the sprint sensations and it's improving week after week.”
Elsewhere, the 400m was won by Leslie Djhone in 45.45 and by Muriel Hurtis-Houairi in 51.82, Eloyse Lesueur long jumped 6.71m (+2.5) and 6.67m (0.3) to beat Eunice Barber (6.60m).
Dimitry Bascou ran 13.42 in the 110m Hurdles (1.5) while Garfield Darien did not start in the final due to a hamstring issue while Ladji Doucouré is yet to open his outdoor season.
Shot Putter Laurence Manfredi, 36, won her 31st national title (indoors and outdoors) with 17.91m. Pierre Jean Vazel for the IAAF