Feature06 Jul 2014

Martinot-Lagarde edges closer to becoming the next member of the sub-13 club


Pascal Martinot-Lagarde winning the 110m hurdles at the 2014 IAAF Diamond League meeting in Lausanne (© Giancarlo Colombo)

For a brief, heady moment French high hurdler Pascal Martinot-Lagarde felt on top of the world in the Swiss lakeside city of Lausanne after setting a personal best and European-leading time of 13.06 at the IAAF Diamond League meeting earlier on Thursday.

As fireworks exploded on a perfect summer’s evening, Martinot-Lagarde, his luxuriant black hair tied back in a ponytail, savoured his third victory on the IAAF Diamond League circuit.

“The 13-second barrier is approaching dangerously,” he posted on his Facebook page under a photograph of himself against the spectacular back drop.

Martinot-Lagarde’s time elevated him to fifth in the European all-time list, and the only Frenchman to have run faster is Ladji Doucoure who clocked 12.97 in 2005.

Two days later in Paris, Martinot-Lagarde bettered his mark by 0.01 but this time he was decisively beaten by Jamaican psychology student Hansle Parchment, who had missed the Lausanne meeting after his aircraft had been forced to return to Kingston following technical problems.

Parchment clocked a world-leading time of 12.94 on Saturday night and afterwards a rueful Martinot-Lagarde confessed: “That shows me I’m not the best on earth. I need to wake up, I was asleep in the starting blocks.”

Although Saturday’s loss to the Olympic bronze medallist showed Martinot-Lagarde how much work he still has to do, the 22-year-old Frenchman’s rivals have no doubts about his quality.

“He’s an amazing hurdler,” said the 2013 world champion David Oliver before the Paris meeting.

Oliver expects more 

“Good technique and great speed. We’ve seen him come along for years, it’s not like a surprise. Everybody has been well aware of his capabilities, now he’s showing it,” added the US sprint hurdler, widely considered to be an astute commentator on his discipline.

Russia’s Sergey Shubenkov said Martinot-Lagarde was the only man standing between himself and a second European title in Zurich next month.

“He has been in unbelievable form this year,” said Shubenkov, who took the European crown in Helsinki two years ago. “He is running way faster than my personal best. He is also pushing me to improve a lot. This is developing into a good rivalry. The contest in Zurich will be exciting, I am looking forward to it.”

Martinot-Lagarde’s euphoria in Lausanne was understandable.

“I improved my personal best by six hundredths of a second while actually having a bad race technically speaking. I hit a few hurdles on the way,” he said. “I thought that my race in Oslo, where I finished in 13.12 with a head wind, was better so I believe I still have a pretty big margin to improve.

“But it was magical having a fast time here. I am a dreamer by nature so of course the barrier of 13 seconds is my mind. Considering my performance tonight, if I can put a clean tactical race I can reach that objective.”

Martinot-Lagarde, the world indoor silver medallist, made a big breakthrough at last year’s Paris meeting when he clocked 13.12.

“That was my best mark,” he told reporters before the Lausanne meeting. “That was really the first time that I have run such a really fast race; that put me among the world best in my event.”

But a back injury then hampered the Frenchman, who was eliminated in the heats of the IAAF World Championships in Moscow, where his older brother Thomas finished seventh in the final.

Martinot-Lagade junior returned to action in the indoor season, returning a personal best of 7.45 over the 60m hurdles this year before finishing second in Sopot.

Coach change helps consistency

He also split from his coach, the 1996 Olympic 100m hurdles bronze medallist Patricia Girard, to join older brother Thomas and his coach Giscard Samba.

“I have great respect for Patricia, who allowed me to become what I am, but I wanted join my brother,” he explained.

Outdoors, Martinot-Lagarde finished third in Doha and second in Shanghai at the start of this year’s IAAF Diamond League in May.

He progressed to first place at the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, defeating Oliver and Parchment while setting what was then a world-leading time of 13.13. “That was an important victory,” he said.

Martinot-Lagarde has not been taken aback by his successes this year.

“I have been really unlucky over the past few years, missing out on the Olympic Games by one hundredth of a second and injuring my back a few weeks before Moscow,” he said. ”I feel like I have been competing at the highest level for the past two years but have failed to prove it at the most significant events.

“I am getting closer to the 13-second mark. I had been regularly running around 13.30 and finally, after running 13.12 in Paris last year, I have been regularly running around 13.15 and I will continue competing and getting closer to that barrier of 13 seconds.”

John Mehaffey for the IAAF