Starting from scratch
August 1999, Pierre Bonvin, national coach of the 400m and observer of the evolution of the athlete, spoke with a journalist from Libération, about the conditions of a return to a very high level, of Marie-Jo Pérec. Here's the full interview.
Starting from (almost) nothing to try to (almost) find everything. This is the nature of Marie-Jo Pérec's challenge. Between virus, doubt and blues, the golden sprinter in gold at the end of 200 and 400m spent almost 2 years off the slopes. Can she return to success? No, if we stick to his two modest times since his return to competition on July 28th. Perhaps, if one gives the benefit of the doubt to an extraordinary athlete.
What is the major difficulty for a top athlete who wants to return to competition?
Get out of the void, find your bearings, defy fear. We have to get back to the reality of the competition. However, unlike most athletes, Marie-Jo Pérec stopped at the top. In training, there is complicity, friendship, help. In competition, we are alone in front of the track, the public and other athletes. It's terrible, violent, but irreplaceable. And of the confrontation, Pérec is sorely lacking. That's why she wants to eat so much. With risks of saturation.
Where is the biggest challenge: in the body or mind?
He's mental, of course. Even if technically, the difficulty is real: an athlete returning from injury must rack up a huge workload in a short period of time. Marie-Jo had to store a lot of land work (work volume) and then specific work (race-oriented techniques). As a result, over 200m, she struggles at the 150m, forces her body, looks for her automatisms, has trouble maintaining her placement. His shoulders are contracted, his muscles knotted. The loss of energy, and therefore of speed, is considerable. She knows that. The two performances she has just achieved are a leap backwards, which send her back more than 9 years earlier.
How can we cope with the feeling of regression and the gaze of others?
The regression, the athlete must accept it. The look of others, it's better not to see it. What Pérec does very well is his great strength. Its margin of progress is enormous. It can win for up to a second. And could surprise by quickly returning to around 22''30.
Doping particularly affects injured athletes, who are in a hurry to regain their rank. The temptation can be great. I don't think Pérec succumbed to it. In any case, it is not entitled to do so. His talent and rank must exclude him from such a drift. And there is nothing in her poor performance to suggest that she has doped, on the contrary. His results argue for his honesty and integrity.
What can be the motivations for such a return?
The need for competition, the desire to re-feel the track, the thirst for victory and recognition, the pressure of sponsors. For now, Marie-Jo Pérec is served. The media commented extensively and bonhomie on his return. There she finds the halo of the willful, courageous champion. But this period is ephemeral. Marie-Jo knows that. She knows the media demands. Either she's counting on a click before the World Cup in Seville at the end of August, or she's getting back to feeling at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney. And bet on an unprecedented feat over 400m: to win a third Olympic gold medal.
Coming back from the shadows in this way imposes a part of suffering or priesthood. How do you have such a long absence?
There are 3 ways for a champion to come back from such a long injury. First of all: don't come back at all. It is the refusal of those who are afraid to start from almost zero, who know that they will not return. Second: come back to see, knowing that we won't see much. This is what those who agree to die dotted but continue to enjoy themselves do. Third: come back and regain your rank. This is the riskiest and most unprecedented: there is hardly a history of sprinters with an exceptional past who have returned to success. But since Pérec is an exceptional athlete, she may create a precedent.