Many of the world’s top athletes have been lining up in Lausanne on Thursday for one of the great international sports meetings, the Athletissima.
But as its founder, Jacky Delapierre, tells swissinfo.ch, the Athletissima is not only a very popular event with athletes and public alike, it also plays a key role in promoting the sport among young Swiss.
Delapierre, who is also vice-president of the Swiss Athletics Federation, collaborates with the other major Swiss meeting, the Weltklasse Zurich, in working with young talent to ensure that Switzerland can field a strong team in the 2014 European Championships in Zurich.
As for Athletissima, its success was crowned last year when it was included in the prestigious diamond league organised by the International Association of Athletics Federations, which covers the world’s 14 major meetings.
The meeting, first held in 1976, has a budget of SFr4.7 million ($5.63 million) this year. Last year it was watched by 17 million television viewers in more than 150 countries, and its tickets are snapped up.
swissinfo.ch: A word or two about this year’s meeting first of all. The superstar of world athletics won’t be there this time. Is this a big disappointment?
Jacky Delapierre: It is possible to hold a meeting without Usain Bolt, just as there were meetings without Carl Lewis or Michael Johnson in the past. If he’s not coming it’s simply for reasons of dates and sport politics. The thing is, he must be present at the Jamaican championships, even if he doesn’t run. But I can already confirm that he will be taking part in 2012. He has booked lane five for the 200m, because he knows he can beat the world record for the discipline in Lausanne.
swissinfo.ch: What about the others taking part?
J.D.: It’s no good trying to hide the fact, there really is a lack of iconic figures in athletics at the moment. But we have some exceptional contenders this year. There has never been such a concentration of athletes at this level in Lausanne, especially in the middle-distance events (800m and 1500m).
The other disciplines promise to be equally good. In the 100m, the duel between Asafa Powell, who ran 9.72 in Lausanne two years ago, and Christophe Lemaitre of France, who is hoping to have a go at the European record, should be very exciting.
swissinfo.ch: Which Swiss athletes should we be keeping an eye on in Lausanne?
J.D.: Lisa Urech, first of all, who will be competing with the best in the 100m hurdles. Another Swiss woman, Beatrice Lundmark, will be taking part in the high jump. As for Irène Pusterla, who has just beaten the Swiss long jump record, we really did our best to get her here, but her trainer had other priorities for her. I am sorry about that decision.
swissinfo.ch : Two Swiss out of 300 athletes taking part in the main meeting doesn’t seem very many. A reflection of athletics in Switzerland?
J.D.: You can’t change things from one day to the next. But there seems to be a new upsurge of interest in athletics among young people. In collaboration with the Weltklasse Zurich and a major Swiss bank, we have established competitions for young athletes, the Kids Cup, which should make it possible to find the best talents from a broad base. So far 60,000 young people have taken part. The aim is clear: to have a competitive Swiss team for the European championships which take place in Zurich in 2014.
swissinfo.ch : What role do Switzerland’s two major meetings, Athletissima and the Weltklasse, play in organising and preparing the European Championships?
J.D.: These championships will be organised as a limited company, whose shareholders are the Weltklasse and Athletissima. So we have decided to get actively involved in promoting athletics among young children. We have also established regional centres for top ranking athletes whom we would like to see in the finals in Zurich in 2014. Lisa Urech, Clélia Reuse (100m hurdles) and Pascal Mancini (100m) have joined this project. Switzerland also has a very strong men’s 4x100m relay, which is aiming for the finals of the London Olympics.
swissinfo.ch: So without the backing of these meetings, Swiss athletes wouldn’t stand a chance of being ready for 2014?
J.D.: Obviously. Athletissima and the Weltklasse have decided to invest money so as to obtain results in 2014. If this works, it will make even more sure of the long term survival of our two meetings. It’s a virtuous circle.
You need charismatic figures to encourage vocations. We had this in the 1980s with Pierre Délèze, Markus Ryffel and Werner Günthör. Everyone would like to see the same thing again in 2014, and that isn’t unrealistic. But you need to invest money, secure the services of specialist coaches and free up time for the athletes.
swissinfo.ch: What can we expect from the Swiss at the next Olympics?
J.D.: London is coming a bit too soon. Only two or three athletes will manage to put in a good showing – I’m thinking in particular of Lundmark and Urech. But it will be a good springboard for 2014.
The 36th Athletissima took place on June 30. It is held at the Pontaise stadium in Lausanne.
Founded by Jacky Delapierre in 1976, it is part of the Diamond League which includes the world’s 14 top athletics meetings.
17 of its events are classified for the Diamond League.
The Weltklasse Zurich, on September 8, also belongs to the same league.end of infobox
There will be 32 European, world, or Olympic champions competing this year.
The key events at this year’s meeting are:
the 100m, expected to be a tight race between Asafa Powell and Christophe Lemaître.
the 800m, featuring David Rudisha of Kenya who twice broke the world record in 2010.
the 100m hurdles, with Dayron Robles
the pole vault with Renaud Lavillenie
the 400m with Sanya Richards
the high jump with Blanka Vlasic
Two Swiss, Lisa Urech (100m hurdles) and Beatrice Lundmark (high jump) will be competing in the main events.
The total prize money is $480,000.end of infobox
(Adapted from French by Julia Slater), swissinfo.ch