Clenching his fists, Drut continued, "That's why—boom! boom!—having fighting spirit is so important. You have to have it to make success in France. Look at Pao. He is from the islands, a kind of paradise. And when he came to Paris he was very easygoing. He was just jumping. So I told him, 'If you want to be a big man, you have to fight! Always fight!' Now he's different. He gets very angrrry when he jumps. So angry, he jumps two meters 26 [7'5"] which is very near Dwight Stones' world record [7'6�" ]
After the meet, noticing that Brigitte was glowering again, Drut walked her to their car where he produced a press photograph that was taken to announce "L'aventure am�ricaine," his month-long tour of the U.S. indoor circuit. The picture showed Poaniewa holding the American flag at hurdle height and Drut grandly sailing over the top.
As Drut's Montreal showdown draws near, he has good reason to heed the words of a famous friend. "Do not hear people," Michel Jazy told Drut. As all Gaul knows, Jazy was the middle-distance runner who once raced to two world records in a day. Like Drut, he was billed as France's Great Lone Hope, the one man who seemed destined to strike gold on an Olympic track. But just as Drut won a silver medal at Munich in 1972, so too did Jazy at the 1960 Rome Olympics, finishing three seconds behind Australia's Herb Elliott in the 1,500. And in the 5,000 at Tokyo in 1964, Jazy faded in the final lap to come in fourth.
Ever since, Jazy, now in public relations for Adidas, has been the subject of speculation that the weight of bearing the national standard adversely affected his performance. And that is undoubtedly why Drut keeps saying, "I am only running for myself and my friends. I don't consider myself a flag-carrier for French sport because I don't want to have that responsibility."
Still, it is inevitable that comparisons are drawn between Drut and Jazy, if only because of the slightly eerie fact that the two men not only come from the same village and the same street but practically the same cradle. "If you open the window of the room I was born in," says Drut, "you can look into the window of the room where Michel Jazy was born."
The rest of the view of the Rue Pasteur of Oignies (pop. 8,000) does not invite a second look. Raymond Dubois, another displaced son of Oignies, describes his native setting simply as "sad."
Forty miles from the English Channel and hard by the Belgian border in the extreme north of France, Oignies is a coal-mining town where the gray, fog-laden days are as drab as the rows of brick houses. The landscape, broken only by the massive black heaps of slag from the mines, is laced with canals and dotted with World War I cemeteries memorialized in In Flanders Fields ("In Flanders fields the poppies blow/ Between the crosses, row on row").
But if, as Jacques Brel chants in a dolorous ballad called La Plat Fays (The Flat Country), the area is a "no-man's land" where the "sky is so low that it creates humility," it did not have that effect on Guy Drut. He remembers watching the Rome Olympics on TV, especially Jazy being awarded his silver medal. That same day, says Drut, he and two of his friends borrowed some vegetable crates from his father's grocery and built an "Olympic" podium in the family garden. Drut recalls, "I climbed up on top of the podium and I heard the crowd roaring. I was only nine years old but that day I knew I wanted to become a champion."
Drut was spurred on at age 14, he says, when his father's grocery was "eaten" by a new supermarket and the family had to live on welfare for two years. "It was rough," Drut recalls, "and I vowed that we would not know a time like that again. I felt that I had to avenge the name of Drut. It was like a mission. After that nothing seemed too difficult. Neither training in freezing weather, neither rain, wind, fatigue—nothing. With frightening conviction, I began a crusade."
By then Drut had abandoned the makeshift hurdles he fashioned out of rotted timber from the mines and joined the local sports club. The track coach, a former hammer thrower named Pierre Legrain, had this thing about teaching fighting spirit. Drut, naturally, was his best student. Legrain, he says, "speaks of an athlete the way a peasant speaks of the earth." Drut understood, he says, mainly because his mother, the former Jacqueline Wigley, is British. "I get my lighting spirit from her," he claims. "The English, they never die. When you run against them they never quit the race before the finish line."