by Jimmy Gressier

When I was young, I did not want to be a runner. I grew up in Boulogne-sur-Mer, the hometown of French football legend Franck Ribery. The goal back then was to be like him.

At 16, I was selected to represent France at the World Schools Football Cup in Guatemala. The same year I represented France in the junior race at the World Cross Country in China and finished fourth in the U20 race at the European Cross Country. In the end, I knew I would come to a crossroads. When I got there, I chose running. 

Cross country has always been the discipline I excelled in, where I’ve had most of my success.

My favourite victory was my first European U23 title in Samorin in 2017. It was unexpected, but I’d been mentally preparing myself all summer to realise that goal.

Due to my footballing past, I have always put a lot of thought into my celebrations. Each race, I’ll imagine myself with my loved ones and I’ll imagine what celebration I could do. In football, I used to love celebrating whenever I scored a goal, so I try to add a little personal touch to every race I win.

It adds a bit of excitement and colour for the crowd.

Jimmy Gressier ()

I always like to stand out, and I've tried to develop my own personal style so people will recognise me. A lot of people probably know me as the guy who races in a hat. Initially, I started wearing it because I had long hair and I wouldn’t be able to see, but now it’s become a bit of a trademark.

Sometimes the celebrations don’t go exactly as planned.

One of those was when I defended my Euro U23 cross country title in Tilburg in 2018. I was far ahead enough to collect two French flags from the crowd in the last 100 metres and as I approached the tape, I went to knee slide and recreate one of my old football celebrations. The mud, however, was deeper than it looked.

I ended up crossing the line face-first.

At first it was weird. I had the feeling everyone was making fun of me. It felt like people would only remember the failed celebration and nothing else. I was initially frustrated, but afterwards I was able to laugh at myself. To this day, it’s still a really good memory.

Going forward, I hope I'll be able to create more memorable performances. I’m confident I can win many medals on the European stage and, fingers crossed, I can qualify for the Olympics. 

Since I broke the European 5km record in February, running 13:18 on the streets of Monaco, I’ve been wondering what other records I can chase down.

Jimmy Gressier ()

The result that day in Monaco was really unexpected. I went in with the ambition to beat the record, which was 13:29, and it was at the forefront of my mind. But saying it is one thing. Doing it is another.

I know I can run even faster, though, and it has encouraged me to push for the European 10km record as well as the French 10,000m record. If I didn’t think that it was possible for me to win medals and break records in this sport, I would have stuck with football.

To win medals on the international stage will be more difficult, but I'm still aiming high. It’s part of my personality. I know how to fight with what I have got.

For now, I’m applying this energy to the track. I want to see what I can accomplish in this arena in the next few months and then I can make a more definitive decision about what to focus on next year.

It has not been an easy battle converting my cross country success to the track. People kept telling me it was very difficult for a cross country or road runner to be strong on the track and for a long time I believed the hype.

Every time I started the track season, I had this knot in my stomach because I was so good in cross-country and yet the track season didn’t go well. I needed to forget all that because when doubt is setting in, it becomes complicated.

Thankfully, my time came in Gavle at the European U23 Championships last summer. I won both the 5000m and 10,000m. I got my confidence back.

Jimmy Gressier ()

Now there is no longer room for those who say cross-country and road runners cannot run on the track. When you are a good runner, you are good everywhere.

Despite my success over 5000 and 10,000, I have never competed in the event I hope to contest at the Olympics. For three years, I’ve been asking my coach to let me race the 3000m steeplechase and I have now begun training for the event.

My first training session took place on a training camp in Flagstaff just before the world went into lockdown. It was a great experience.

I had hoped to race my first steeplechase this summer and see how close I could get to the 8:22 Olympic qualifying time. It's a more open discipline on the world stage than the 5000m or 10,000m so I believe it could be my best chance of success.

Ultimately, I want to run marathons and take on the European and French records, but that is not in my immediate plan.

The dream of any athlete is to be Olympic Champion. That is the Holy Grail.

Down the line, I’d like to run the marathon at the 2024 Paris Olympic Games. In my head I’m already preparing for it, but a lot can happen in four years.

To run the streets of Paris is a life goal of mine. But who knows? Maybe I’ll be in the stadium, jumping over barriers. It all depends on what path I choose to take from here. 

Images: WK Vision & Getty