At 20, France's Christophe Lemaitre won a remarkable three gold medals at the Barcelona 2010 European Athletics Championships only five years after taking up the sport.
Lemaitre might have been a relative latecomer to athletics but after trying his hand at a variety of sports as a youngster, the Frenchman eventually found his niche in the sprints. “I tried many team sports like football, handball and rugby. But I didn’t really like it because I like to do things for myself. My mother searched for sports that included speed – athletics was a great fit,” he said.
Lemaitre burst onto the sprinting scene in 2010 although he was certainly a known entity prior to Barcelona. He made an impact at age-group level in both events, winning the 200m title at the 2008 World U20 Championships and then the 100m title at the 2009 European U20 Championships, scorching to a European U20 record of 10.04 in Novi Sad.
A false start in the 100m quarterfinals at the World Championships in Berlin the following month could be put down to nerves and inexperience on his major stage debut but Lemaitre dealt brilliantly with the rising expectations and attention at the 2010 European Championships in Barcelona.
Despite clashing with the Tour de France, Lemaitre was thrust onto the front page of L’Equipe after breaking the sub-10 second barrier in the 100m for the first time with 9.98 at the French Championships. This performance put Lemaitre into the ascendancy for Barcelona although his exploits did generate some distracting and provoking headlines about race which Lemaitre was keen to distance himself from.
There had been some successes for male French sprinters at the European Championships, most notably a world record setting-performance in the 4x100m at the 1990 European Championships in Split, but individual success hadn’t been quite as forthcoming in the decades prior to Barcelona. Not since the 1960s had a Frenchman won an individual sprint title but Lemaitre was to end this drought and forge his way into championship history.
Lemaitre has never been renowned for being a fast starter and he relied on his top end speed to carve through the field in the 100m final in 10.11. He ceded even more ground off the bend in the 200m final but the gangly 20-year-old completed the sprint double with a late but perfectly-timed lunge to the line to beat a disbelieving Christian Malcolm from Great Britain in 20.37 with the Frenchman winning by 0.01.
"I can't believe he caught me on the line,” rued Malcolm. “It's hard being so close to winning it but to take a medal, I can't argue with that.”
Lemaitre joined the likes of Portugal’s Francis Obikwelu (2006), Italy’s Pietro Mennea (1978) and Valeriy Borzov from the Soviet Union (1971) in completing the sprint double although he still had one more race to run.
The double European champion was assigned the long second leg in the 4x100m relay final, safely taking hold of the baton from an 18-year-old Jimmy Vicaut who had arrived fresh from winning the 100m bronze medal at the World U20 Championships in Moncton, Canada.
The Italian quartet held the lead at the final changeover but Martial Mbandjock, who had won the individual bronze medal behind Lemaitre in the 100m, raked past his Italian counterpart on the anchor leg to win the title for France, ensuring Lemaitre would leave the Montjuic Stadium with three gold medals.
Lemaitre remains the only male sprinter to win a sprint treble at the European Championships - East Germans Petra Vogt and Katrin Krabbe and Great Britain’s Dina Asher-Smith have achieved this hat-trick on the women’s side - as well as the only male athlete to win three gold medals in the same European Championships.
And Lemaitre has since further embellished his medal tally, winning two more medals at the 2012 European Championships in Helsinki and another three at the 2014 European Championships in Zurich.
His tally of eight medals makes him the most bemedalled male athlete in European Championships history and while he was bitterly disappointed by the cancellation of Paris 2020 where he would have been one of the prospective stars of the event, it is far from inconceivable that Lemaitre could further add to his haul at the Munich 2022 European Athletics Championships when he will be 32.
Relive Lemaitre's three gold medals from the Barcelona 2010 European Athletics Championships in full.