Barcelona: French sprinter Christophe Lemaitre was the star of the show at the European championships with a haul of three gold medals, but he still looks well below the pace to challenge the likes of Usain Bolt and Tyson Gay.
The tall, gangly 20-year-old from Annecy went through last week’s championships unbeaten, wowing the crowd with a late blast of acceleration that left rivals in his wake.
But his winning 100 metres time of 10.11, albeit into a head wind, would not have been good enough to make the final at last year’s world championships and is unlikely to give much concern to the three fastest men -- Bolt, his Jamaican compatriot Asafa Powell and American Gay.
Lemaitre’s best of 9.98 seconds is 0.4 slower than Bolt’s world record -- a huge margin over the short sprint -- but the quiet Frenchman is confident he can get better.
“I honestly don’t know how much faster I can go. I don’t know what my limit is,” he told Spanish sports daily Marca.
“My coach, Pierre Carraz, says I can do 9.92.
“I need to improve my start and in the 200 I need to work on running the bend,” said Lemaitre, who is still juggling electrical engineering studies with his running career.
Expectations will be high at next year’s world championships in Daegu, South Korea, especially as he is faster over 100 metres than triple Olympic champion Bolt was at the same age.
However, Europe’s best made little impact when he faced Bolt over 100 at last month’s Paris Diamond League meeting, finishing in 10.09 well behind the Jamaican (9.84), Powell (9.91) and Yohan Blake (9.95).
Lemaitre was also second to Powell in Rome in June, clocking 10.09 against his rival’s 9.82.
The last European to win a global 100 title was Britain’s Linford Christie at the 1993 world championships, a year after taking the Olympic gold in Barcelona.
Double Olympic champion Valeriy Borzov believes Europe will have a while to wait before the next one.
“He’s young and he’s strong but I’m a little sceptical,” said Borzov, who did the sprint double at the 1972 Games representing the Soviet Union.
“He needs to get to 9.60 and it’s not possible now, maybe only in a few years. I’m not sure he can compete with the Americans or Jamaicans,” Borzov told reporters.
Former sprinter Darren Campbell, the last European to win a world championship medal over 100 metres, when he took a bronze in Paris in 2003, was more optimistic about Lemaitre’s potential against the sprinting powerhouses of the U.S. and Jamaica.
“Other sprinters will take him seriously, now. Because he won a title,” Briton Campbell told L’Equipe.
“He can run 9.90 and 19 (seconds), easily, over 200. You have to be patient, of course.
“I think we have found our new medallist. All right, he won’t run 9.60 right now but he can achieve what I achieved and who knows what he can do in the future. I don’t set him any limits.”