Lemaitre leads French one-two in the 100m

Lemaitre-Vicaut HEL-wide
Christophe Lemaitre of France retained his European 100m title clocking 10.09 at the Olympic stadiumin
Helsinki on Thursday.

History will record that Christophe Lemaitre collected his second 100m gold medal in succession in the European Athletics Championships in 10.09 to cement his already secure place in the pantheon of French sport.

Second place was also taken by France in the person of Jimmy Vicaut, 0.04 back, while Norway's Jaysuma Saidy Ndure won bronze in 10.17.

That French double matches the 1962 gold and silver won by Claude Piquemal and Jocelyn Delacour. It also puts distance between the French and Great Britain who were tied on 11 medals each in this event before this evening.

But the bare facts hardly do justice to the events that unfolded before 22,825 spectators at 18.45 local time in the Helsinki Olympic stadium.

The anxiety was etched all over Christophe Lemaitre's face. As he crossed the line there was no triumphalist look at the clock, just a blink of relief that it was all over. But further agony ensued because now the waiting could begin for the results because he for one was not sure he had won.

After an agonising wait his name flashed up on the stadium screen and it was all finally - over. He could now celebrate. Rushing across to the grass infield pursued by frantic photographers he fell to his knees and bowed his head to the turf in gratitude to his own private gods.

Had there been a normal prelude to this race, the post-race celebration might all have been much more conventional. But a bizarre set of circumstances at the start conspired to shatter already frayed nerves that accompany any thoroughbred 100m final.

Wind the clock back to the start. As the gun went for the first time, Lithuania's Rytis Sakalauskas, on Lemaitre's inside in lane four, stayed firmly anchored to his blocks showing not the slightest inclination to start. The rest of the field meanwhile headed off down the track only to be halted belatedly by three successive reports from the recall gun.

The track official spent some time speaking to Sakalauskas before producing a yellow card which allowed the Lithuanian to continue in the race.

As they rose for the second time, Italy's Simone Collio in lane one, tried to jump the gun and the field was once again recalled with Saidy Ndure shaking an accusing finger at the Italian. Lemaitre was not the only one who was jittery.

At this stage, Lemaitre must have wondered whether the race was ever destined to get under way because, bizarrely, Sakalauskas had once again stayed in his blocks without the slightest intention once again of moving.

As they lined up for the third time, Lemaitre was taking deep breaths in a clear effort to control his nerves. This was not in the script. While everyone else may have expected him to win for weeks now, as the moment of truth kept tantalisingly receding, he was clearly having doubts.

It was hardly a surprise, therefore, that the Frenchman got the worst start of the six remaining racers since Sakalauskas stayed once again firmly rooted to his blocks before calmly strolling away to collect his kit.
Meanwhile, on Lemaitre's right, compatriot Vicaut had got a dream start and was in the lead and roaring down the track to what appeared at 50m to be the upset of all upsets.

No one had started better than the Norwegian, though, and incredible as it seems, Lemaitre was only in fourth at this stage, even trailing Latvia's Ronalds Arajs.

This was when the triple European champion from Barcelona realised he was going to have to work like a Trojan and, credit to the man, he visibly gritted his teeth and got down to business.

But it was not easy. Clawing his way agonisingly into the lead he finally got on terms with long-time leader Vicaut, leant desperately for the line and it was all over bar the doubts.

It hardly seems possible that such a short race can produce so much drama, but as Lemaitre emerged from the call room onto the track he seemed to sense this was not going to be an easy ride.

It was a chilly 15c, not the sort of weather that best favours sprinters, when the eight finalists emerged onto the track. The surface was still damp from one of the many showers that had fallen on Helsinki during the day.
Practising his start from lane five, Lemaitre launched himself down the tartan for 40m before coming to a halt and strolling forward for a few more paces. As he did so he looked up at the heavens almost in supplication.

He may be triple European champion and fully expected to lift his second consecutive 100m gold, but he clearly was not taking it for granted. As events turned out, he was right to be anxious.

But it all came out right in the end. "It was a very difficult race after two false starts and it was difficult to concentrate," said the winner.

Understatement of the year.