Paris - Gérard Rousselle (c) © Copyright
General News Paris, France

Words from the Meeting Director - Paris 2008

Many people like to have a cake to celebrate special anniversaries and Gérard Rousselle, the meeting director of the Meeting Gaz de France Paris Saint-Denis, is no different.

To commemorate the 10th birthday of the emblematic Stade de France, arguably the centrepiece of French sport, Rouselle has organised something appropriate to mark the occasion.

"Of course we are going to have a cake. It's going to be a massive one which everyone will see in the centre of the stadium. It's very exciting for me and I'm very proud because we have had the World Cup of football, the World Cup of rugby, and athletics fans will remember the World Championships in our sport here in 2003, but this is the only time there has been or will be a 10th birthday party," said Rouselle, ahead of the fourth of this summer's six ÅF Golden League meetings.

Inevitably, guests have to be invited to any birthday party and, as well tens of thousands of spectators in the stands, a few well known names will take a bow during the course of the festivities.

"Bob Beamon, Donovan Bailey and Michael Johnson are already here and they have done a press conference yesterday (Wednesday). The photographs of the three of them together were very nice and these big stars have done a lot to add to the promotion of the meeting. They have helped create the feeling that this year is something special.”

"But they are not the only ones. Internationally, we have Hicham El Guerrouj, Paraskevi Patoulidou and Jan Zelezny coming as well. From a French perspective we have Olympic gold medallists Jean Galfione and Pierre Quinon, the pole vault is always popular in France.”

“There is also Guy Drut, the famous hurdler, but we will also have a man who is, in my opinion, the biggest of the big stars, the 1956 Olympic marathon champion Alain Mimoun. It means a lot more work than in other years, especially organising travel, but I think it will be worth it," commented Rousselle.

Almost everyone in France looks forward to the traditional month-long holiday period during July and August, but not Rousselle this year.

"This year, to be honest, the meeting does not have a good date for French people. The holidays started on Monday so many Parisians have already to left the city to go away for their annual break.

"Usually, I like to have the meeting a week or so before the holidays start so that we can guarantee a completely full stadium. One of my favourite memories of the first meeting in the Stade de France 10 years ago, even more than the actual athletics on the track, was having 55,000 people there and the wonderful atmosphere we had.”

"I'm not sure that the stadium will be absolutely full this year but, nevertheless, there will still be a big crowd. Gaz de France have been a very good sponsor and they have renewed their commitment to the meeting from next year despite the economic situation in Europe and rising energy prices.

"One of the things that is good about their involvement is that not only do they support the French stars like Ladji Doucoure, they also have a great involvement at a basic level, how do you say, I think the correct phrase in English is, grass roots athletics. This year they have invited 8500 young people from all over the Paris region to come to the Stade de France," added Rouselle.

However many people are in the stadium, they will still get the chance to witness whether Kenya's Pamela Jelimo in the Women's 800m and Blanka Vlasic in the Women's High Jump will make it four-out-of-four wins and carry on their dream of getting a share of the $1 million ÅF Golden League jackpot.

"Ideally, I would have liked more people to be in contention but two is still an OK number as we are the fourth meeting this year in the ÅF Golden League," he commented.

So does he think that both women will be cashing cheques for $500,000 at the end of the season.

"I can't see anyone beating Vlasic here or anywhere else. I can see her wearing one of the Golden bibs in Zurich and then Brussels (the remaining meetings after Paris).

"I'm not so sure though about Jelimo. I hope she does it because I am of the personal opinion that having more than one athlete in contention and winning the jackpot is a good thing, it increases crowd interest overall in the meetings. She has been very impressive so far this season and I think she will win here but, I think, a lot depends on what happens at the Olympics whether she will carry on winning in Zurich or Brussels. It is a little different for her from Vlasic as she is a middle distance runner," analysed Rouselle, suggesting that not everyone can have their cake and eat it in the ÅF Golden League.

Phil Minshull for the IAAF