Two years on from the hosting of the last edition, the Wanda Diamond League meeting in Paris is making its big comeback this Saturday in Charléty. “The Fédération Française d’Athlétisme is proud once again to be able to offer fans the very best athletics has to offer with a truly exceptional line-up, enthuses André Giraud, President of the FFA. Nearly 30 medal-winning athletes at the Olympic Games in Tokyo are honouring us with their presence and will be able to benefit from this showcase for our sport alongside France’s headline acts. A big thank you to the Federation’s teams and to the numerous volunteers, who have been working flat out for many months to come up with a unique event, and to our public and private partners for their invaluable support.”
For the numerous athletes, the presence of the public, who were absent from the stands in Tokyo, comes as both a delight and a relief. Such is the case for Mélina Robert-Michon (Lyon Athlétisme), who was eliminated in the qualifying rounds in Japan and will be throwing in front of her partner and two daughters on Saturday. “I’m keen to see what I’m capable of and to rediscover the pleasure of discus throwing. Tomorrow, I’d like to nail a 62-63 m throw”, admitted the international multi-medallist at this Friday’s press conference. Her most notable rivals will include Olympic champion Valarie Allman from the US and Croatian Sandra Perkovic.
Lavillenie and PML targeting enjoyment
Enjoyment will also be the watchword of Renaud Lavillenie (Clermont Athlétisme Auvergne), who will be up against the likes of Swede Armand Duplantis and Americans Chris Nilsen and Sam Kendricks. Still finding it awkward to put significant pressure on his ankle and heel, the former world record holder is still courageously endeavouring to pick up where he left off with his season’s work after his eighth place at the Games. “I didn’t want to round off my season feeling as I do after my Tokyo performance, explains the pole vaulter coached by Philippe d’Encausse. It’s a real pleasure to be back in Paris and to be on home soil with, hopefully, a lot more people to spur us on. You tend to forget how important that is. We’re lucky to be competing in sport at a very high level and to have people cheering us on.”
Pascal Martinot-Lagarde is also looking forward to being pushed to go faster by the spectators. After many weeks of interruption due to physical niggles, the hurdler from ES Montgeron only managed to start bringing his A game again in Tokyo, where he finally ended up with an admirable fifth place in a time of 13’’16. Third on Thursday evening in Lausanne with a wind-assisted time of 13’’17 (+2.9m/s), he has a real thirst for competition and is sure to experience a rush of adrenalin on Saturday in Paris’ 13th district, where he’ll notably be vying with the surprise winner in Japan, Jamaican Hansle Parchment.
“I’m familiar with the power of Paris, so I’m hoping to run faster than I did yesterday, says Benjamin Crouzet’s student. I’ve never won here. I’ve twice finished second. It was a massive boost to see Lausanne’s stadium full. It was great to come out of the call room, hear the crowd and rediscover the adrenalin rush that has been missing for so long. I’m looking forward to seeing how things will be in Charléty tomorrow. I hope it’s going to be noisy.”
Lavillenie, Robert-Michon, Martinot-Lagarde: so many athletes can recall the long seasons spent contesting the most prestigious competitions on French soil. The same is true for athletes like Jimmy Vicaut (100 m outside the Diamond League), Aurel Manga (110 m hurdles), Valentin Lavillenie (pole vault) and Benjamin Compaoré (triple jump).
Tual on the track, Zhoya and Konaté with a ringside seat
This 2021 edition is also welcoming a host of ‘newbies’ too. Among them, Gabriel Tual, seventh in the 800 m in Tokyo, who at 23 years of age has a whole future ahead of him. The middle-distance runner from US Talence, fourth in a very choice line-up in Lausanne yesterday, will be making his career debut at the Wanda Diamond League meeting in Paris. His panache and freshness are bound to appeal to the home crowd. Similarly, the performances posted by Ethan Cormont (ASA Maisons-Alfort), European U23 champion and Laureen Maxwell (Athlé 91), second best junior female high jumper of all time, are sure to be up for scrutiny.
With the exception of Maxwell, the juniors and hopefuls who medalled in the European U23 Championships in July, then the U20 Worlds in August, will have the honour, along with double Olympic number two Kevin Mayer, to be presented to the public in the run-up to the meeting. Leading the way will be Sasha Zhoya and Erwan Konaté, who returned from Nairobi (Kenya) with gold in the 110 m hurdles and the long jump at the start of the week. For this talented new generation, who already have their sights on the Paris Olympics 2024 and Los Angeles 2028, it will doubtless be a thrilling experience before they literally hit the track running from next year.
“We were keen to invite this new, highly promising generation, explains André Giraud. With the French audience set to come out in force, having been deprived of any international meetings since early 2020 due to the health situation, applauding these new faces as the great champions they are will be a wonderful moment. With three years to go until the Olympic Games in Paris, now more than ever, athletics has a central role to play in our capital and across France as a whole.”