02 July, 2015

Lavillenie / Powell, two stars ready to set the Stade de France alight

The stars are out in Paris. And they’re making the most of the venue. Renaud Lavillenie and Asafa Powell, two of the hottest names in world athletics, each kicked off the MEETING AREVA 2015 in style this Thursday 2 July. Indeed, the French pole vaulter and the Jamaican sprinter jumped… onto a boat, on the River Seine, to head off to the press conference to launch the French stage of the IAAF Diamond League, organised in a room steeped in history within Paris’ Hôtel de Ville. It was an experience the former 100m record holder seemed to relish. “Over recent years, I haven’t really had the opportunity to play the tourist during my stays in Paris, admitted Asafa Powell, beaming from ear to ear. This year, I want to take the time out to enjoy it a little more.”

Both athletes have sampled the delights of the river trip then, but their main objective remains fixed in their minds: the performance. Asafa Powell is in good shape and is making no secret of the fact. “I began my season with a time of 9’’84 (on 9 May in Kingston), which is fairly quick for a first race. Since then I’ve felt good. I’m relaxed and really enjoying what I do on the track.”

At 32, the Jamaican acknowledges the fact that he enjoys his position as outsider of world sprinting. “I’ve been very exposed for a long time and now I feel very good below the radar”. He asserts that he’s focusing solely on himself, on his race and his performance, without worrying about adversity and the successful times of his rivals, a race Justin Gatlin is leading. However, Asafa Powell is sorry about the absence of Usain Bolt, forced to withdraw early this week from the MEETING AREVA due to an injury to his left leg. “It would have been nice to have run against him, it’s a shame. That said it doesn’t make much odds to me. I’m going to run my own race. I’m in good shape. With a view to the Worlds in Beijing, it would be good to run a little faster than my times so far this season.”

Renaud Lavillenie, as relaxed as ever two days before the Paris meeting, is once again eagerly waiting to push open the gate to the Stade de France. He reckons he’s pulled off some ‘interesting things’ in training over recent days. He also says that he’s ready to finally jump at least 6 metres at the MEETING AREVA, a height he has been hunting down since his first participation, in July 2008. “Jumping 6m is never simple. It’s important to know that just 18 pole-vaulters have cleared 6m in history. And there are only 3 of us to have pulled off this performance at least five times. In the Stade de France, it’s often windy and it rotates and makes the competitions complicated. However, if conditions are favourable on Saturday evening, I have to be able to go high.” The Frenchman has planned to begin his competition at 5.70m, using a 13.8 or 14.0 pole.

Jumping 6.05m this season on 30 May in Eugene, Renaud Lavillenie has programmed the MEETING AREVA nicely among his season’s highlights. “A large number of the people who accompany me and support me live in Paris. As such, it’s important for me to shine in this competition and give them the enjoyment of a great performance, he explains. Added to that, the date of the MEETING AREVA is particularly favourable this year. The competition on Saturday evening will be the first of my two series of meetings. I’m lucky to be starting off with something very strong, with a big, supportive crowd. As a bonus, we’ll be jumping with the girls in a double pole vault competition, the likes of which haven’t taken place since 2009.”

The MEETING AREVA 2015 on Saturday 4 July is set to enjoy a very summery evening, dominated by temperatures bordering on 30° or higher at the start of the programme. “Some very favourable conditions for the sprint, the hurdles and the field events,” explains Laurent Boquillet, the sports director. The French Athletics Federation, owner and organiser of the event, is expecting 45 to 50,000 spectators, including several thousand youngsters invited by the Secours Populaire, a charity organisation giving assistance to the poor. Bernard Amsalem, the President of the FFA, explains: “The evening will also be punctuated by two special highlights: the awarding of the London Olympic bronze medal for the French 4x100m, where they have just ranked 3rd after the American relay team were relegated, and a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the world record mile, set in 1965 by Michel Jazy”. Roll on Saturday.