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50,000,000 FRENCHMEN SAY HE'S THE GUY
Ray Kennedy
May 24, 1976
And you know they can't be wrong when they predict that high hurdler Guy Drut, the world-record holder, will bring France a gold medal at the Olympics
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May 24, 1976

50,000,000 Frenchmen Say He's The Guy

And you know they can't be wrong when they predict that high hurdler Guy Drut, the world-record holder, will bring France a gold medal at the Olympics

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Then, stretching to his full height of 6'2�", Drut indicated that his crotch-to-heel measurement was exactly one meter, which he termed "perfect for hurdling." He added that it was an attribute he shared with Charles Foster, the hurdler from North Carolina who figures to be Drut's chief competition for a gold medal at Montreal.

Catching a glowering look from Brigitte, Drut started to leave but then turned suddenly to ask, "Who won the 110-meter hurdles at the Mexico City Games in 1968? Right, Willie Davenport. Everybody knows that. But who was the world-record holder then? Martin Lauer of West Germany. Almost no one remembers that. And that is why I more prefer to be Olympic champion than world-record holder. Montreal will be my...how do you say...my blessing? No, I know the word. Montreal will be my consecration."

Or his undoing. Fearing that the pressures of Drut's "Olympic rendezvous" will make him "dizzy," an editorial in Le Figaro warns, "French athletes, alas, are at once too isolated on the track and too pampered in the city by an opportunistic crowd of followers to prepare themselves with all the serenity that is desirable." The determined visage of "Drut le magnifique" crowned by a fashionable shock of dark ringlets, can be seen everywhere on the Paris newsstands. Television commentators and columnists gush about how Drut "devours his sport the way he devours life," about his "exemplary obstinacy," "love of effort" and "magnificent tranquillity of spirit."

Writing in France-Soir , Guy Lagorce describes Drut as "incurably happy," a man who lives with a wife as "rosy and tender as an English bonbon" in an apartment near the banks of the Marne that "rocks with laughter." He concludes, "Of all the famous people we know, Drut is the one who sleeps the best. And the only one for whom each morning is a morning of joy."

Fulsome as it is, the idolatry is matched—and perhaps explained—by the paucity of French Olympic talent. In short, Drut is about all that France has to crow about. And because a native Frenchman has not won an Olympic gold medal in men's track and field for nearly half a century, the mere thought of having a bona fide contender, indeed a favorite, was enough to warrant Drut's election last December as the nation's outstanding athlete for the third time in the past four years. In fact, of the three professional cyclists who shared Drut's title of "champion of champions," only the revered Daniel Morelon finished ahead of him in another recent poll naming the top 15 French athletes of the past decade.

Forget Jean-Claude Killy and his three gold medals. France has always had mountains and skiers skilled enough to conquer them. But a world-class hurdler? In a land that has traditionally lavished more attention on truffles than track? Well, sacrebleu! That is truly tr�s formidable.

Or so the French think. The fact that they rate Drut over Killy in the polls indicates their awareness of how exceptional it is for an interloper to intrude on a specialty that has long been considered the private preserve of the U.S. In 17 Olympics over 76 years, no European, much less a gaudy Gaul, has ever won the 110-meter hurdles. And that is why Drut fires the romantic French imagination and inspires the otherwise sober Le Figaro to herald his Olympic quest as "unique in the annals of track and field."

All this was apparent earlier in the year when Drut competed in the Paris indoor championships. Seeing the woeful level of competition, the grim handful of milling spectators and the drafty, dimly lit track in the suburb of Pantin, it was hard to believe that this was the tradition that nurtured the stunning likes of a Guy Drut. The Millrose Games it wasn't. In both qualifying heats as well as in the finals of the 60-meter hurdles, Drut looked like a hit-and-run speedster fleeing the scene of an accident. Racing alone after the first 15 meters or so, he left behind a messy, clattering sprawl of stumbling rivals and upended hurdles. Wincing, Drut's coach, Raymond Dubois, facetiously asked, "It is like this in the United States, too, no?" No, but then, Drut's electronic clockings on the slow runway—7.82, 7.77 and a final whizzing 7.73—were not routine, either.

Dubois whispered, "Guy must always be near the world record, always. It is his character to always go beyond himself, always."

Afterward, while intermittently cheering on Olympic teammate Paul Poaniewa, a high jumper from New Caledonia, Drut reflected on "how little educated, how little encouraged French people are to practice sports. In the United States you see everybody running in the parks. But if you do that here people think you're crazy. Nobody's really against sports here. They're just more or less indifferent. Too many French people are satisfied with being gagne-petits—small earners."

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