This is Stuart Weir’s chat and observations with Femke Bol over her 400m hurdle gold medal in Budapest!
Femke Bol – world champion at 400m hurdles
There was great disappointment when Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone initially seemed to be deciding to run the 400 flat rather than the hurdles at the 2023 World Championships, so depriving us of a confrontation with Femke Bol. Ultimately injury caused McLaughlin-Levrone to withdraw.
The two athletes have a totally different approach to their careers. In 2022 Sydney ran 3 times outside of the US Champs and the World Champs and this year 3 times. Femke ran 21 times in 2022 and already 24 times this year. Including indoors and relays, your correspondent has seen her run 14 times this year!
No one can question Femke Bol’s right to be World Champion. She has run 8 hurdles races this season and won all eight – including Diamond Leagues in Florence, Oslo. Lausanne and London. That said, her world champs started badly when she fell in a gold-medal position on the anchor leg just short of the finish in the mixed relay. She said at the time: “I do not know what happened. It has never happened to me before. I cramped towards the finish line, I was pushing, pushing, pushing. I was disappointed that my body could not finish the race strongly”.
When she commented after the hurdles race, that relay moment was still in her mind: “It wasn’t easy to forget what happened in the final meters of the mixed relay, but my team was around me, and they put me at my ease. I knew that the 400m hurdles would be a chance to show up, and I was confident. I felt the strength to do it. I really enjoy competing here in Budapest, and that also helped me to get my focus back. I took the first few hurdles fast, and then I could run my rhythm. I think I have just had the best first 200 meters ever. Then I just needed to finish the race”.
Her winning time was 51.70 (compared to her PR of 51.45 achieved earlier this season, reflecting a new stride pattern – 14 to hurdle 7 and the 15). When I had a long conversation with her last autumn, she made a striking comment about the challenge of competing against Sydney: “Perhaps I will be second on the world stage my whole career, but I’m training not to be. But for sure, it is possible”. I am so glad for her that it is now not the case”.
Her answer to another question – about her ambitions – gave a good insight into her make-up. She said, “That’s a tough question because I just want to become a better athlete. I’ve trained hard for that, and it’s the only thing I can control. I want to get better. I’m now on the world stage and want to perform well there. To keep running championship races well because that’s when you want to run well. For me, it’s about trying to get better each year – sometimes you can see that sometimes you can’t. I feel that I put in the effort and am learning new things. I want to be better every time, and then I will see where that takes me”.
A supremely talented athlete with her feet firmly on the ground and a really nice person too.