Since winning her gold medal at the SPAR European Cross Country Championships in Belgrade in December, Sophie Duarte has remained very active: victory over 10km at the Prom'Classic Nice in 32.21, a new course record, and fourth place for Team Europe at the BUPA Great Edinburgh Cross Country.
And if we add her early season preparation races, one thing is for sure, the newly named European Athlete for the month of December needs some well-deserved rest.
"The beginning of the season was long and although I enjoyed the success, I need to be reasonable. I have heavy legs and need to take a breath," Duarte told ouestfrance.fr.
It is not every year that a French athlete is crowned European champion for cross country. Duarte is just the third to achieve this in the senior category after Joalsiae Llado in 1997 and Yamna Belkacem in 2001. No Frenchman has ever won the men’s senior race.
"This is a symbolic victory, because cross country brings the best runners from the track and from the road together,” Duarte said.
With this victory Duarte hopes to inspire the next generation. "I've already invested myself in developing young middle-distance runners and I hope that this title will make them want to pursue a career in athletics.”
“It's important to have good role models, to motivate you and to see that winning is possible. When I was younger, it was Paula Radcliffe who inspired me a lot.” she revealed.
Cross country seems to have found a good spokesperson in Duarte, who believes in the chances of seeing a European athlete on the podium at the World Cross Country Championships in the near future.
“The interesting part about cross country is that the obstacles and terrain can level the strengths of the different racers, and mental toughness plays a big role.”
At age 32, Duarte proved she had great mental strength, winning her first major athletics title. Her persistence paid off in Belgrade, and it will be interesting to see how she will transfer this success on to the track this season.
A former 3000m steeplechase runner, Duarte has now switched to the 5000m where she will be aiming for a podium finish at the European Athletics Championships in Zurich 12-17 August.