Christophe Lemaitre: It’s about my speed, not my skin colour

The sprinter wants people to forget that he’s white. He just wants to be the world’s fastest human

The first thing you notice about Christophe Lemaitre is not the colour of his skin, even if it is the talking point that surrounds him. You could say his pigmentation is his sprinting definition, as the only white man to have run under 10 seconds for the 100 metres and the only white man to compete in the 200m Olympic final. But it is not that which catches the eye.

More immediately noticeable are the slight frame and relatively spindly arms in a discipline habitually renowned for its brute power and strength. While Usain Bolt weighs in at nearly 15 stone, Lemaitre is a comparatively meagre 11-and-a-half stone despite being over 6ft 2in tall. Nevertheless, Lemaitre is quick – his personal best for the 100m is 9.92 sec, for the 200m, 19.80sec.

The pair are at opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of personality. While Bolt is about the most gregarious athlete out there, Lemaitre is very much the shy and retiring type.

He has become used to answering questions about the colour of his skin. He merely shrugs off such talk with Gallic indifference. “It’s not important at all,” he says through a translator ahead of this weekend’s European Team Championships in Gateshead.

But he understands why the question hangs above him and his potential importance as a ground-breaker. “It has never been about the colour of my skin,” he says. “But maybe it’s important for other people to take up athletics seeing me, I don’t know. I have genuinely never thought of my colour. I only care about races, about medals at European and world level, about beating the Jamaicans and Americans, and others.”

This weekend, he once more has his sights set on continental dominance as he competes for France against Great Britain and Northern Ireland over 200m in Gateshead.

He still has some way to go to beat the world’s best at both 100m and 200m, notably Bolt, despite being a European champion and a World Championship medallist. But his belief remains undiminished. “I think that if I continue to progress at the same level and pace, it’s possible,” the 23-year-old says.

Lemaitre has enjoyed the best winter of his career, a camp in Portugal followed by competition in Miami before competing over 150m in Manchester last month.

Last year, in contrast, was far from ideal. He opted out of the 100m at the Olympics as he felt he was not a realistic medal contender in the event, and instead focused solely on the 200m. He ran a disappointing final to finish sixth and, even now, the memory rankles.

“I was so disappointed as I would have liked to have got a medal,” he says. “But I was a long way off that.”

His first goal now is to run consistently under 10 seconds for the 100m. Looking back at the first time he went under that symbolic barrier, he recalls: “It was an odd sensation of going so quickly. It was one of those moments where I felt I ran well throughout the race. It was something achieved, something I had to do to be among the best sprinters in the world.”

As a relative latecomer to the sport, the potential for progression is still huge for Lemaitre. Growing up in the small town of Culoz, in the Rhône-Alpes, his sporting passions were handball, rugby and football. It was not until he was 15 that he first tried athletics, a sport that played to his personality traits.

“I didn’t like losing as a team, the thought that someone else had lost for you or done badly,” he said. “I was not always that team player and, in athletics, I could just focus on my own goals.”

Growing up, he had no idols – in athletics or any other sport. He just focused on his own running and his studies.

Until recently, he was immersed in an engineering degree at university. Rather aptly, he explains: “It was to work in the energy production field – like renewable energy. But I had to stop the course because I had a lot of responsibilities to do with athletics and the media.”

Now fully focused on athletics, he feels 2013 can be his annus mirabilis over both the 100m and 200m. His position as European No 1 appears to be on solid footing at both distances though, for him, that is not enough.

“The most important thing is not to be the best in Europe, to beat the British runners like Dwain Chambers and Adam Gemili,” he says. “It’s to be the best everywhere.”

Christophe Lemaitre is a global ambassador for sports performance brand Asics. He stars in the latest “Better Your Best” brand film, which can viewed at www.asics.co.uk

Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
Sport
Yaya Touré has defended his posturing over his future at Manchester City
Voices
Spectators photograph the Tour de France riders as they make their way through the Yorkshire countryside
voicesHoward Jacobson: Line the streets for a cycling race? You might just as well watch a swarm of wasps
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
lifeHere's one answer to an inquisitive Reddit user's question
News
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
News
Detail of the dress made entirely of loom bands
news
Life and Style
beauty
Sport
There were mass celebrations across Argentina as the country's national team reached their first World Cup final for 24 years
transfersOne of the men to suffer cardiac arrest was 16 years old
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Sport
German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
News
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Sport
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Sport
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Sport
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
News
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
people
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows, Network Security)

£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice