European gold and silver medallists in the decathlon, Romain Barras and Eelco Sintnicolaas (Getty Images) © Copyright
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Patience and perseverance pay for Barras

Overcoming years of nagging injuries, Romain Barras finally won his first major title after he brought the European Decathlon title back to France after 16 years. His triumph in Barcelona also capped a season in which his consistency brought him to the top of the Decathlon world.

Despite the proud history of French Combined Events only three decathletes won the European title before Barras’ triumph at Barcelona’s Olympic Stadium. Ignace Heinrich was the first, winning in Brussels back in 1950; French record holder Christian Plaziat took top honours in Split in 1990; and Alain Blondel followed up four years later in Helsinki.

“The European title crowned many years of hard work,” Barras said. “It is also a result of a year of consistent results. I could train injury-free since November 2009 when I started training for this season. After years of injuries this has boosted my confidence. I hoped to achieve the podium but perhaps a gold medal was a dream.”

Barcelona triumph the perfect 30th birthday present

His 8453 point performance in Barcelona was also a PB, coming together at the best possible moment for Barras.

“The hard work has paid off this year. It’s a dream comes true to be European champion after Plaziat and Blondel,” Barras said. “My win created an emotional feeling in my parents who were in Barcelona to support me. I saw my father crying. He was my first coach. I owe much to him. Without the support of my father I would not have achieved a tenth of what I have done. My family is everything for me.”

“Barcelona has not changed my life but I am now recognized on the street. I receive more attention from media and institutions.”

Just three days before he celebrated his 30th birthday, Barras won a hard-fought and exciting duel with Dutchman Eelco Sintnicolaas. On a rainy second day the competition remained in doubt until the end. Barras’ 8453 tally edged Sintnicolaas by just 17 points.

Barras finished day one in sixth place with 4244 points, but cleared 2.04m in the High Jump, a PB.  The Pas de Calais native managed to catch up on the second day where he could rely on his stronger events, the Pole Vault and Javelin Throw. The Pole Vault proved to be the key event when Barras equalled his PB of 5.05m but Sintnicolaas vaulted an extremely impressive 5.45m which moved him into second place. Barras, fourth after the event and 87 points behind the leader, overtook the Dutchman by just five points with only the 1500m to be contested after his 65.77m effort in the Javelin, which came close to his event PB set in Götzis in 2005. The Dutchman, the 2009 European Under 23 champion, however, continued his impressive run, improving his Javelin PB by more than a metre.

“Five points are nothing in a Decathlon,” Barras said. “The Javelin was held in rainy conditions which is not very good for me. My warm-up was very bad but my friends Florian Geffrouais and Nadir El Fassi came to encourage me saying: ‘The javelin will decide the medals, the 1500 metres will be for the colour of the medal’.” 

Sintnicolaas needed to finish ahead of Barras in the final event but the Frenchman ran a great race to beat Sintnicolaas by just 17 points.

“I cannot associate Romain Barras with the title of European champion,” Barras said modestly after his victory. “I cannot believe it. This is the result of hard work and a lot of sacrifices during my career. You cannot replace Roman Sebrle as European champion. You can only come after him. He is the legend of Decathlon.”

Bags IAAF Combined Events Challenge title as well

Barras ended his breakthrough season with the overall title in IAAF Combined Events Challenge, thanks to his second place showing at the Hypo-Meeting in Götzis with 8297 points, his victory at the European Combined Events Cup in Tallin with 8313 points and his Barcelona gold. Outside the three best scores needed in the final ranking, Barras competed for a fourth time at the traditional season-capping Decastar meeting in Talence where he finished third with 8180 points.

“The first place in the IAAF Challenge is the prize for consistency during the year. It’s a great joy to finish first in the Challenge.”

“The highlight of this season apart from Barcelona was Götzis. A second place at the Hypo Meeting is like a dream. It was like hell to compete in rainy conditions but I found the energy thanks to the support of the fans,” Barras said.

First hurdles race before his third birthday!

Barras comes from a sporting family - His brother, Guillaume, and sister, Diane, are also combined events specialists – and began his Decathlon career thanks to his father Pascal, a Physical Education teacher who began training his son after his fifth place at the 2001 World University Games in Beijing.

“I was introduced to sport at a very early age,” Barras, who contested his first Decathlon when he was 15, recalls. “My father encouraged me to try all disciplines. When I was two-and-a-half years old, my father placed shoe boxes in the corridor of our apartment for me to jump over. It was about 10 metres long,” Barras said, adding with a laugh, “That was my first hurdle race. That is how I started my athletics career!”

First big breakthrough in Daegu

He began his training relationship to Jean-Yves Cochand in 2002 which was followed the next year by his first breakthrough and international victory. Barras took the 2003 World University Games title in Daegu, the host for next year’s World Championships, with an 8196 point tally, his first over the 8000 point benchmark.

Unfortunately, injuries plagued his career the following years. Despite the nagging problems Barras managed an eighth place showing at the 2006 European Championships, scoring 8093 points. He was fifth at the 2008 Olympic Games and finished seventh at both the 2005 and 2007 World Championships.

“The Decathlon is a story of ups and downs. But I have never given up. I owe this European gold medal to my family and friends who give me the power to continue.”

Apart from athletics Barras has ample interests to while away his spare time. He enjoys historical novels, watching films, loves to travel and play beach volleyball. He even founded a beach volleyball club. He also followed his father’s footsteps by studying Physical Education. “I have been teaching Physical Education since 2002. I got through a Master in Physical Preparation in 2008.”

Barras was one of France’s eight gold medals in Barcelona. “It was a great team with great results and a good spirit. The very good results in Barcelona received a lot of coverage in France.

“The World Championships in Daegu will be tougher and our athletes will need to continue to work hard to increase their performance level.”

Diego Sampaolo for the IAAF