This is the type of article that Stuart Weir excels at. He loves writing about the athletes he observes. In many cases, he has seen many of the European athletes over most of their entire careers. His keen sense of observation and his wonderful sense of irony come to play in these articles. Please enjoy Stuart’s second preview of the 2023 European Athletics Indoor Championships, March 2-5, 2023. RunBlogRun will be there!
Femke Bol ready to shine in Istanbul
We are only at the end of February but already Femke Bol has twice run an indoor sub 50 second 400m, 49.96 in Metz and 49.26 in the Dutch nationals in Apeldoorn. Six races, six wins before reaching Istanbul and the European Indoors. Earlier in the winter I had the opportunity to review 2022 with her.
Femke Bol is a master (OK mistress) of an understatement! When I asked her for her assessment of 2022 – a year in which she was second in the World Championship and won a relay gold, won European Championship gold at 400 hurdles, 400 flat and relay and won the Diamond League title, she replied: “I think it was a pretty good year. I’m pretty happy with it”.
She went on to explain that her preparations had not been great for the year: “In October/November 2021 I was struggling with being sick and I got an injury – which I never do. But I think it was the result of tiredness from the previous season. What had happened in 2021 was all new to me. Perhaps I started with too much motivation, too harsh on myself. Winter training is always hard, a lot of work but this was different from what I was used to”.
Before we consider what she achieved in 2021 and 2022, let’s go back to the beginning. She started to do athletics when at seven or eight because her brother was doing it. “It seemed fun so I asked to do it. A lot of my friends were there and we just enjoyed going to all the meets and different competitions”. It was about 2015 when it ceased to be “just fun” and became more important: “In 2015 I went to my first championship [European Youth Olympic Festival, Tbilisi after winning Dutch Under 18 champs in 56.14] and that was when I started to run 400. Qualifying for the championship made me think that perhaps I have some talent. Maybe I can handle the lactic. When I discovered the hurdles; I found something I was good at. I liked it and it was natural for me and I was running crazy times.
From 2015, I started to take it more seriously and not go to parties and things. When I was 16 I started training in Arnhem [At the Dutch National Olympic Center] which is a 40-minute drive from where I live and my parents had to bring me several days per week. I started to take it seriously because I always wanted to be the best I could be. I’m at a higher level now, and that is still what I try to do”.
When I asked her if she had set herself any targets at the start of 2022, I was interested that her targets were performance more than medals: “I wanted to be more consistent at 52 seconds and to stay at that level”. She is such an accomplished athlete, it is hard to remember that she will just be 23 this month. While she did run in the 2019 World Champs as a teenager – seventh in the semi-final, it was really at the European Indoors in 2021 that she first announced herself, winning the 400 flat in 50.63, an achievement she describes as “huge” and “my European breakthrough”. She explained that she knew from training that she was capable of a fast race but doing it under championship pressure, running two 400s in a day and four in 3 days was a new challenge. But one that she took in her stride.
Because of Covid, the period between Doha 2019 and the 2020 Olympics, held in 2021, was strange and she came into the Tokyo games with less experience than she would have had in normal times. She felt that it was in Tokyo that she experienced the highest level of competition for the first time and she came away determined to stay at that level.
When pressed about 2022, she did admit “Of course, I wanted medals and being European champion at 400h was a big goal for me” but then added – and I really believed her – “but my real target in 2022 was to become a better athlete and become more consistent”.
In part 2 she will give her assessment of 2022 – that pretty good year – in more detail.