“Although I stayed second forever”
NOS Editor in Munich
NOS Editor in Munich
Less than twelve hours after completing her treble of European Championships, Fimek Ball, three gold coins around her neck, is relaxing in a comfortable chair at the Athletes’ Hotel in Munich.
Anyone who sees it like this on that lazy Sunday morning immediately knows one thing for sure: In the brand new life of Europameisterin, not a day goes by without thinking about the 2024 Olympics.
Five bracelets adorn Paul’s slim right wrist. One such example is a typical example of home crafts. White 5-letter beaded necklace in black: Paris.
This reference to the French capital unequivocally demonstrates what is central to her life. Oh, sure, she is – as she can only say – “so happy” with the European titles in the 400 flats, 400 hurdles and 4×400 relays.
Only six athletes managed to win three gold medals in one European Championship. One of these is Fanny Blankers Quinn, the Flying Housewife that Paul was actually compared to before the tournament started. Yet, deep in her heart, she would rather look forward with hunger than look back with conviction.
Paul after the successful golden mission at the European Athletics Championships: ‘Enjoyed it a lot’
The patron of her dress had organized a meeting on Saturday evening, otherwise he might not have even come to a small party in Munich. I drank exactly two glasses of champagne, after that enough. Alcohol began to drop, signaling her to fall asleep. With self-deprecation: “It was a wild night.”
After less than five hours of sleep, I headed to the Athletes’ Hotel on Sunday morning to speak to the Dutch media. A meeting organized at her express request. In addition to being a world-class athlete, Paul is also an unpaid ambassador for her sport.
She’s concerned about the budding journalists (“Did you already have a nice European championship?”) and apologize for her impulsiveness during chatting over the past few days after her races. “Everything was a bit hectic due to the busy schedule. Sorry.”
Her daily schedules are sacred, it sounds apologetic. Living according to a consistent pattern is the key to her success in the major tournaments. The day before leaving for the match, coach Laurent Moyle handed her an Excel spreadsheet in which the daily schedule for each half-hour was determined. “It’s all planned,” says Paul. Even the tribute ceremonies.
You are so tired and yet you have to keep thinking. Really magical.
She’s looking forward to a few weeks this morning without an “Excel element” as she calls it. On Tuesday she left for Lausanne for a Diamond League match, after which she concludes her season in Zurich, where the final of that prestigious tournament will be played. Then comes a period when you don’t think about athletics.
“Turn my head off for a while,” she calls it.
Until then, there is only one problem left. After twelve months in the Tokyo Olympics, the World Cup in Eugene, and the European title fight in Munich, that question seems inevitable.
Would she dare turn to the 400 flat, since with her 49.44-time win in that segment in Paris she might have a greater chance of Olympic gold than the 400 hurdles? No, it seems firm. This never.
“400 hurdles is so much more fun. That’s just a part of me. And it always will be for now. I just do what I love the most, where my heart is.”
View the three European titles of Femke Bol in the carousel below.
It’s a challenge to put together this puzzle every time, as the trick is not left with one piece. Lyrically: “Getting out between the hurdles. The rhythm you have to walk and keep. You’re absolutely broken and yet you have to jump over those hurdles, no, you’re allowed to jump. You’re too tired and you still have to keep thinking.” A short silence. “Really charming.”
With a personal best of 52.03, there’s also a world to be won in Paul’s 400 hurdles in the coming years, she said. The fact that she may have to compete with Sidney McLaughlin in this segment until the end of her career, a teammate too big for Paul even with her world record of 50.68, does not affect her decision.
In fact, it is precisely because of the American presence that she clings to her great love.
“I really hope McLaughlin doesn’t turn 400 flat, as you sometimes suggest. As an athlete, you just want to run against the best players in the world at the World Cup and during the Olympics. And also against Sydney. Maybe that means to me that an eternal second remains in the 400 race. Hurdles. That’s it. Then I can at least say that I competed against the strongest athletes out there.”
Her love of the 400 hurdles was also the reason why, in the run-up to Munich, she ignored a suggestion from coach Moyle that she end up only running the 400 hurdles during the European Championships as an incentive. “I told him I didn’t want to gamble and definitely wanted to come home with a medal after my first European Championship.”
Paul kept his word, and even more so. The jubilee year that she herself can only describe as “strange” has ended in Munich. One bronze at the Tokyo Olympics. Two silvers at the World Championships in Eugene. Three went as loot for the European title.
Another medal every time. Each time a step higher on the platform. “This shows that as a human you can apparently do more than you think.” Laugh because not everything is as it seems. “It’s like running. It looks like it wouldn’t take any effort for me. It’s not like that at all.”
It’s been twelve months that Paul has developed into a phenomenon, a condition to which you have to get used to. “Everyone suddenly wants something from you and has an opinion of you. I can protect myself very well from that. Fortunately, I have a manager who doesn’t share much with me.”
However, selling people a “no” is trying to minimize it. “Then I think: How much effort does it ever take to stand still for a moment when people want to take a picture of me? In ten seconds I can make someone very happy.”
But instead of giving others a nice day, she allows herself a nice walk at this point in the season. Paul is eagerly looking forward to playing an unknown tourist on a Greek island with her Belgian boyfriend Ben Broders. Enjoy the sun, the sea and the beach. Finally you eat and drink what you want.
Leave the reins for a few weeks, that’s enough. Wasting is fun, but it’s not the best. Give her an athletics competition in any corner of the world. “Believe me, there is nothing more beautiful than that.”
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