A black day for Belgian athletics yesterday, with the injury for marathon runner Bashir Abdi and especially the cancer verdict for hurdler and Belgian Tornado Julien Watrin. Athletics journalist David Naert outlines the sporting consequences of both setbacks.
Julien Watrin had been struggling with testicular cancer for a while since the Memorial Van Damme. He had already undergone surgery and had high hopes that he would be cured, but in the end the cancer was not completely gone.
He now has to undergo 9 weeks of chemotherapy, which of course makes it impossible to train as a top athlete and therefore reach the Games.
From a sporting point of view, this is twice bad news. First of all for himself, because he said he was in the best of his life.
Watrin says he was better than a year ago, when he won silver in the 400m at the European Indoor Championships, behind Karsten Warholm. He also reached the semi-finals at the World Championships in Budapest, in the 400m hurdles.
He was also a regular at the Belgian Tornados, who have been under some pressure since last summer.
Year after year, the relay team has run the 4x400m finals and won medals at European and World Championships, usually with Watrin there. But last summer they didn’t even reach the final at the World Cup.
For example, there is pressure for the World Relay Championships in the Bahamas, which is actually a selection tournament for the Olympic Games. Top 14 is needed there to be allowed to go to the Games. If you have to miss a top player like Watrin…
With Julien Watrin they lose a man with a lot of experience and you should not underestimate that. So they have to hope that nothing happens to the other top players.
The Borlée twin brothers are in their last months as athletes: Jonathan has not actually run for a few years and for Kevin it is anything but problem-free.
But we shouldn’t dramatize it either. Last summer we saw a strong Alexander Doom, a reborn Robin Vanderbemden, Dylan Borlée usually reaches his level and Florent Mabille was one of the revelations.
There is also the question of Jonathan Sacoor. Will it ever surface again? What we saw at the Flemish championships was not really encouraging.
So there remains some uncertainty. Achieving Olympic qualification in the Bahamas in a relaxed manner could remove some of that uncertainty.
We also learned yesterday that Bashir Abdi will be sidelined for several weeks with a stress fracture. Very annoying, but of a different order than what is happening to Watrin now.
Yet this seriously derails Abdi’s preparation for Paris. He has to adjust his training, which isn’t the end of the world, but it is very annoying.
Abdi is an athlete who knows very well what he is doing and who can also peak. We shouldn’t minimize his injury, but we shouldn’t expect the worst either.