10 memorable French victories in European Championships history

Christophe Lemaitre
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A late charge to the line sealed Christophe Lemaitre the 200m title at the 2010 European Championships in Barcelona

Since the first edition of the European Championships in 1934, France has won 193 medals in championship history and it is very likely the hosts will surpass a combined haul of 200 medals at the Paris 2020 European Athletics Championships from 25-30 August.

With 250 days to go until the European Championships return to the French capital city for just the second time, we take a look at some of the great French moments in European Championships history.  

Roger Rochard (5000m) Turin 1934

He might not be a particularly familiar name but Roger Rochard became the first French athlete to win a European title. He won France’s first gold medal at the 1934 European Championships in Turin, winning the 5000m in 14:36.8 ahead of the legendary Polish distance runner Janusz Kusocinski, the 1932 Olympic 10,000m champion. 

Nicole Duclos (400m, 4x400m) Athens 1969

Nicole Duclos’ exploits might have been somewhat overshadowed by her compatriot Colette Besson but Duclos won the 400m title at the 1969 European Championships ahead of Besson - 51.77 to 51.79. The gold and silver medallists both ducked under the previous world record of 51.9 and Duclos’ time was to stand as a French record until 1987.

Men's 4x100m relay team, Split 1990 

The British team included individual champions Linford Christie and John Regis but underdogs France combined brilliantly to win the title in Split in a world record of 37.79. Jean-Charles Trouabal took the French into a clear lead on the third leg before Bruno Marie-Rose maintained France’s advantage against Christie on the anchor leg. The French team scratched 0.04 off the world record and they are still the only European nation to have held the world record since 1960.

Marie-Jose Perec (400m, 4x400m) Helsinki 1994

After focusing on the 200m in 1993, Marie-Jose Perec refocused on the 400m the following season, winning gold medals at the European Championships in Helsinki in both the 400m (50.33) and the 4x400m relay (3:22.34). Perec’s anchor leg was timed at 49.36 and their time remains the French record.

Christine Arron (100m, 4x100m) Budapest 1998

Christine Arron was at the height of her powers at the 1998 European Championships in Budapest where she produced two irrepressible pieces of sprinting. After winning the 100m title in a still-standing European record of 10.73, Arron produced a legendary anchor leg to run down Irina Privalova in the 4x100m relay. Her anchor was timed unofficially at 9.67. 

Renaud Lavillenie (pole vault) Barcelona 2010

France has a venerable tradition in the men’s pole vault but Renaud Lavillenie’s gold medal at the 2010 European Championships in Barcelona was surprisingly the first time the title was won by a French vaulter. Lavillenie defended his crown in 2012 and 2014 but his run of success ended with a no-height in Amsterdam in 2016 when Lavillenie elected to enter at 5.70m in a final which was decimated by a swirling wind. 

Christophe Lemaitre (100m, 200m, 4x100m relay) Barcelona 2010

Christophe Lemaitre left his mark on European Championships history in his first season as a senior. At the age of 20, he became the first male sprinter to win a sprint treble in championship history, winning the 200m title courtesy of a late lunge to pip British veteran Christian Malcolm. He ran the second leg of France’s gold medal-winning team in the 4x100m, taking ownership of the baton from an 18-year-old Jimmy Vicaut.

Yohann Diniz (50km race walk) Zurich 2014

Yohann Diniz etched his way into European Championship history by winning his third successive gold medal in the 50km race walk in Zurich. He also broke the world record with 3:32:33 which remains the last world record to be set at the European Championships.

Floria Guei (4x400m) Zurich 2014

“And there won’t be a medal for the French team as we are too far back,” lamented the French commentator as Floria Guei entered the back straight with the three teams contesting the medals some way in the distance. A medal wasn’t even a likely outcome with 150 metres remaining but Guei went through the gears in the home straight, tearing past teams from Russia, Ukraine and Great Britain & NI to win the most improbable of gold medals. 

Pascal Martinot-Lagarde (110m hurdles) Berlin 2018

Fourth at the 2015 World Championships and 2016 Olympic Games and third at the European Championships in 2014, Pascal Martinot-Lagarde made it to the top of the podium in dramatic circumstances at the 2018 European Championships in Berlin where the Frenchman was given the verdict ahead of gold medal favourite Sergey Shubenkov on the photo finish.