Aussie ready for a strong leap

Athletics : After the world championship silver, Fabrice Lapierre has set his eyes on Rio Games

Aussie ready for a strong leap

In 2010 Fabrice Lapierre was at the very top of his game. The Australian, who was born on the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius, struck gold at both the World Indoor Championships and Commonwealth Games.

He was ranked third in the world for the year with his PB 8.40M and had leapt an outrageous wind-aided 8.78m in Perth at the Australian Championships – a mark only four men in history (Bob Beamon, Mike Powell, Carl Lewis and Robert Emmiyan) have ever exceeded in any conditions.

Then the injuries struck. In 2011 and 2012 he was bedevilled by hamstring issues and he missed the London Olympics. A quad issue caused him to no-mark in qualification at the Moscow World Championships. He considered quitting. “The lowest point was in 2012 when I missed the Olympic team because I truly believed I could have got an Olympic medal,” he laments.

Lapierre's former training partner Melvin Echard recommended he seek out Dan Pfaff, the coach with the Midas touch, to rejuvenate his flagging career. Based out of Altis (formerly the World Athletics Center) in Phoenix, Arizona, Pfaff accepted Lapierre into the group but offered a sharp assessment.

According to reports in the Aussie media, Pfaff described Lapierre's running as sloppy, his take-off as awful, his travel schedule as horrendous and his training as random.

With no coach he had lost his funding and his medical treatment. Yet Pfaff likes a punt and set about remodelling Lapierre. The Aussie listened.

“He’s really good at understanding athletes,” says Lapierre, who won silver at the 2002 World Junior Championships. “When you are warming up he can pick things up you can't see yourself. He can see a certain part of the body is moving in a certain way. He can fix like nobody else I know. Dan is a great teacher who has taught me a whole load of stuff I had no idea about.”

Lack of consistency

Previously, Lapierre struggled with consistency and regularly fouled his jumps. One of the first elements he sought to improve with Pfaff was his run-up and ability to spot the board.

“Dan has taught me to see the board a little earlier and I now have a greater percentage of hitting the board,” explains Lapierre.

“It is hard to explain how he does this, but the more I practise, the better understanding I have. I’ve got a lot less fouls.”

Lapierre is famed for his incredible spring off the board – if you're looking for a cliché then call Lapierre a kangaroo – but Pfaff was not so impressed. He believed jumping high does not equate to jumping far and has worked hard on adjusting the angle of his jumps to closer to 45 degrees.

“I tend to jump really high, and while Dan says it looks good, he wasn’t really happy with it,” says Lapierre, who jumps in competition with his teeth clenched firmly around a gold chain.

“It is hard for me because the more I’m into a meet, the more excited I get.”
Sprint technique and foot contact with the ground in the final few strides are other areas the 32-year-old Aussie is working hard on improving.

Training alone in his previous base at College Station in Texas was never fun. So when he arrived at Altis in late 2014, he fully embraced the quality training partners he could work with, led by Olympic champion Greg Rutherford – who has since gone on to win the world title – and his fellow Aussie, the 2011 world and 2012 Olympic silver medallist Mitchell Watt. It has given Lapierre a new lease of life.

“Having all these people around me has made practise exciting and fun,” says Lapierre, who also trains with PanAm women’s long jump champion Christabel Nettey of Canada.
“I have a great time out there and look forward to practice.”

Medical support

It is little coincidence that Lapierre has dodged injury in 2015. The outstanding medical support team at Altis has been integral.

“I can have therapy any day I want it and I can access it at any time,” he says. “I take more care with pre-heab exercises to avoid injuries.” In 2015, he competed on 18 occasions – his heaviest competitive schedule since 2006.

Phoenix is known as “The Valley of the Sun”, and Lapierre has adapted quickly to life in the Arizona city. He likes the warm climate (who wouldn't?) and adds: “It is a great city. I like to go to the movies. I like to go to the driving range at a place called Top Golf and I like to hang out in the old town along a strip of bars.”

So how does his golf stand up?

“I’m actually terrible!” he admits. “It is something I need to work on. I’ve never played on a proper golf course but I find it a lot of fun.”

But it is in the long jump pit that he is at home and with the Olympics around the corner, he will be looking forward to making up for the 2012 miss.

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