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Guy Drut, but not only… How France became a benchmark nation in the 110m hurdles

We watched the July 14 parade on Thursday on the Champs-Elysées. The crews of the National Navy fleet, the Patrouille de France, the motorized troops commanded by General of Division Emmanuel Gaulin… It was very nice, but from our point of view, the main battalion was missing, the one that makes it shine France in the most hostile lands: we want to talk about the men and women of the 110m hurdles (of course).

There is an excuse: the most distinguished members of the delegation are in Eugene (United States), to compete in the World Athletics Championships. At Hayward Field, the usual theater for American selections, there will be five “soldiers”: Laëticia Bapte, Cyréna Samba-Mayela, Just Kwaou-Mathey, Pascal Martinot-Lagarde and Sasha Zhoya. Knowing that Aurel Mangal (3rd at the Indoor Worlds in 2018), Wilhem Belocian (junior world champion and European indoor champion) and Dimitri Bascou (bronze medalist at the Rio Olympics in 2016) stayed at home.

Pioneer Guy Drut

This crazy crazy density is not new. “It started at the end of the 1940s, with André-Jacques Marie, and it continued with Marcel Duriez and Pierre Schoebel, finalists in the 110m hurdles at the Mexico City Olympics in 1968, says Stéphane Caristan, another legend in the discipline. And there is necessarily Guy Drut, the ultimate. It was he who wrote the letters of nobility of this sport in France and who created vocations. Yes, because talking about the 110m hurdles in France without mentioning the name of Guy Drut is a bit like talking about the rabies vaccine without mentioning Louis Pasteur.

The name of the world record holder in 1975 and Olympic champion in 1976 comes naturally to everyone when we talk about 110m hurdles in France. “It made all the runners who had abilities over hurdles dream a little, recognizes Dimitri Bascou. Behind, we thought it was possible. Above all, he established the technical bases of the 110m hurdles on his own. “He really made everyone agree on his technique, with the transfer of mass, the attitude in the interval, the attitude in the race, continues Bascou. It is, for me, the almost perfect technique. »

And peak and peak and kinograms

To ensure the transmission, France was also able to count on two coaches, Jacques Piasenta and Fernand Heurtebis, who developed a frame of reference, to define the good or the bad technique. For this, they notably went to East Germany, the country of reference at the time, to study biomechanics. Renaud Longuèvre, former coach of Ladji Doucouré, develops:

It’s all been written down. There are observables for all coaches, that is to say elements not to be missed, such as, for example, the position of the landing leg, which must be tense. Piasenta has been a pioneer in developing funnel learning situations, that is, exercises where you can only get out of it by producing the right technique. »

Passionate about cinema, Jacques Piasenta notably released kinograms, an image-by-image breakdown of crossing hurdles with different techniques, different profiles. The trainers who have followed have only had to follow these methods and add a few small pinches of salt and pepper to improve, if possible, the recipe.

The french touch technical

“In the 1990s, we had a meeting with a lot of coaches on the content of federal training, which we updated a little, says Stéphane Caristan, former indoor world champion. It wasn’t complicated to continue the legacy. On the technical level, we master the subject, so we have the ability to adapt the fundamentals to different profiles, like on Sasha Zhoya, very technical, but who has a speed, at her age, very very high. »

In fact, like what it offers in the pole vault, France has become one of the leading nations in the 110m hurdles from a technical point of view. So much so that you could almost spot a Frenchman on a race only by his way of passing the obstacles. “Often, the Americans or the Jamaicans have a less fine technique, they will rather be in a combative approach”, analyzes Dimitri Bascou.

Another example given by Renaud Longuevre: “The Russians attack the hurdle keeping their legs bent, while the French are straight, to descend more quickly after the obstacle. ” The french touch is such that many countries are inspired by it. Renaud Longuèvre told us that the coaches of Grant Holloway (2019 world champion, 2021 Olympic vice-champion) and Dayron Robles (former world record holder and 2008 Olympic champion) had Guy Drut as their technical reference. Same thing for the German Federation, which wanted to have the secrets of French training, especially during the reign of Ladji Doucouré.

“The past speaks for them”

And then, the results and the expertise bring a certain confidence to those who arrive. “There is an emulation, a heritage that makes us want to take the place of the people we are talking about, insists Stéphane Caristan. It means that if we beat them, we have the means to be in the final. And the mind, the will makes it possible to go for podiums. There is no complex. »

Renaud Longuevre, who is now DTN at the Israeli Athletics Federation, goes even further: “When the jersey represents results and the installed specialty is strong, you arrive with greater self-confidence. A kid as gifted as he is who will arrive with Nicaragua, who has never had any results in the 110m hurdles, will find it more difficult to express himself. The athlete must convince himself that he is capable of achieving a result, whereas the big countries do not have to do that, since the past speaks for them. The present and the future shouldn’t be too bad either.

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