Para-athletics: Timothée Adolphe “I’m a little bit crazy!”

Thursday, 20 july 2023

Timothée Adolphe was one of three French medal winners at the World Para-Athletics Championships held from July 8 to 17 at the Charléty stadium in Paris. This multi-talented athlete is one of the iconic members of the French team.

This French sprinter won bronze medals in the 100m and 400m events, running in the T11 category. Considering the fact that injuries had prevented him from preparing properly for these championships, his good result bodes well for the Paralympic Games Paris 2024. 

How do you feel about your two bronze medals that fell short of your objectives but which, ultimately, account for half of the medals won by the French team? 
On the day, I was disappointed that I only won bronze. After all, I was defending my title as reigning world champion in the 400 meters, and the silver medal in the 100m that I won at the Tokyo Paralympics. But the level of these two world championship finals was extremely high and I finished just one 100th of a second short of silver. So I’m not worried about the Paralympics Paris 2024 next year. In fact, I’m ending an inactive period with the added bonus of a new coach and a new guide-runner. I also suffered two hamstring injuries in April and June this year, so I was obliged to do fewer specific sessions than initially planned. And, when competing in the 400m race, you need to have a series of markers in order to build your race and, owing to my injuries, I entered the world championships in Charléty without having run in enough competitions. So I’m not worried about Paris 2024, just a little frustrated…

How do you explain the fact that the French team didn’t achieve the expected results?
We’re seeing an incredible development of the Paralympic movement worldwide, and it’s becoming increasingly professional. The French team is very young and very close-knit, which is a huge advantage… But we don’t have enough top-tier athletes, and some of the members are getting a little on in age. The level of performance has improved immensely, and we’re obliged to keep up… We need to train harder and more rigorously… It’s teaching us a good lesson. And we’re almost there. 

You’ve changed your guide-runner, i.e. the athlete who runs with you as a guide over the 100m in view of your visual impairment. What criteria do you use when choosing a guide, and what kind of relationship do you have?
The first criterion is the time margin between us. The guide-runner must be able to run faster than the disabled athlete to be comfortable when guiding him or her in the race. For my two distances, he has to be able to run the 100m between 3 and 5 tenths of a second faster than me, and 2.5 seconds faster than me in the 400m. He must also be able to adapt his stride when the athlete he’s guiding runs at a different pace under the effect of lactic acid; he needs to display lucidity during the race and know how to react… We also need to be of a similar build and have our arms at the same height to simplify synchronization. We should also have similar running styles. And, also, on a human level, we have to get along well… It starts on the track, and as we spend a lot of time together, we also need to have good interpersonal relations off the track, too… This is because you say things to your guide that you wouldn’t necessarily say to a friend. Guide-runners need to know how fit their athletes are and be aware of their psychological condition. So it’s essential to be able to confide in each other.

How did you get into athletics? 
I started athletics at the age of 10 in Guyancourt, a town next to Versailles, southwest of Paris. Later on, I looked for a club in the town where I was studying that accepted visually impaired people. I was born visually impaired and went completely blind later on when I was 19. The coach told me he didn’t have time to waste on blind people. I was just 15 at the time, and it was something hard to accept. So I started playing torball, a discipline tailored for the visually impaired, before taking up athletics once again at the Paris University Club.

Could you describe your typical week?
I’ve been training at the INSEP sports institute since 2014, six days a week, between 2 and 6 hours a day… Otherwise, I’m on a professional integration contract with Keneo, working in the area of communication training, more specifically on listening. 

Which champion do you most admire?
Usain Bolt… For me, he’s changed the mentality of sprinting… Before him, we used to see American sprinters acting like celebrities in the starting blocks. Bolt introduced a more sporting, more fun state of mind… And he also represented a runner with a different profile: tall and lanky. And he’s never been caught doping… 

What do you like about your sport and why is it so special?
The feeling of incredible speed and freedom. And then I like the technical aspect of the 100m sprint. In the 400m, I like the fact that you’re pushing your limits, it’s a struggle against yourself, a high-intensity sprint but with a tactical side, nevertheless.

What do you think about when you doubt yourself?
I visualize positive things. But doubting isn’t such a bad thing. It prevents you from resting on your laurels, and tells you to get back to work…

What’s your greatest strength?
My mental attitude, my ability to work hard. Technically, my smooth, fluid way of running and my desire to understand, and to assimilate, technical skills…

How do you see yourself in twenty years’ time?
My running spikes will have been put away in the cupboard. I’m not going to try and hang on to the bitter end… You have to know how to do something else. I’ve got lots of other projects, including music and stand-up comedy. I’ve set up a company that’s bringing out a video game for the general public that’s accessible to people with all kinds of disability and that we intend to develop. It’s just been released. And I also want to create a version of basketball accessible to the visually impaired…

What do the Paralympic Games Paris 2024 mean for your career? 
It will be one of the most important seasons in my career, and the Paralympics Paris 2024 should be the crowning glory. In Tokyo, I was the favorite in the 400m but I was disqualified… so here at home… 

How are you preparing for the Paralympics Paris 2024? Is it really a special event compared to other competitions?
It’s important not to change the intensity of your preparation routine. I’ve acquired quite a bit of experience and now’s the time to make use of it…. Just because it’s the Paris Paralympic Games doesn’t mean you have to do more… Because you’ll risk making a mistake and injuring yourself. So we’ve identified the areas where we need to focus a bit more… We’ve learned a great deal from these World Championships in this respect. 

Two other athletes from Team Banque Populaire Val de France competed at the World Championships. How do you get on with them?
Badr Touzi is a tower of strength. He’s making progress, and already secured an Olympic quota place… He finished 4th or he was 4th in the World Championships… He’s aiming to do better than 14 meters, and he has the potential to do it. As for Alice Métais, I was the one who introduced her to athletics when she was 13 or 14… It was when they were shooting a TV show. I’d been asked, in my capacity as a sportsman, to introduce my discipline to two young people, one of whom was Alice. I was living proof that she could do athletics despite her visual impairment. But I didn’t want things to end with a TV show, so I kept in touch with her and her family to help her find a club… She started out with a guide-runner and we’ve already seen how far she’s progressed. We’ve developed quite a strong relationship, I’m something of a big brother to her… I’m there when she needs me without being on her back all the time. She reached two world finals in her first world championships and has already broken her personal bests, so she’s well on her way, which is great for a young athlete. 

Can you tell us a value that you really admire in sport?
The motto “performance, pleasure, participation” is particularly apt. You want to perform as an elite athlete, but the most important thing is to keep enjoying yourself. Ultimately, sharing and passing on your experience to others is what keeps sport alive…

Do you have another passion in life?
I’ve been rapping and doing hip hop music since I was 13; I’ve just released an EP* and I’ll be releasing a 2nd one in September. It’s rap music where the lyrics are extremely important and the message has to be positive. I look at things constructively… I now need to develop my music still further, bring it up to date while preserving my own identity.

And I also do stand-up comedy. I really like communicating. Disability is still a taboo subject in France. To get my message across, I felt that humor is both a relevant and effective vector. And you have to be a little crazy to get up on stage and make people laugh, and I’m a little bit crazy… I still have a lot of work to do, especially in terms of my movements on stage and writing the texts… So far, I’ve performed in Toulouse – that was at the end of March – and again at the Marco Polo Comedy Club in Paris in June… It went really well…

How important is the support provided by your partner, Banque Populaire Val de France, in your life as an elite sportsman?
Banque Populaire was the first partner to put its faith in me, and that’s something symbolic and powerful. It’s been ten years of partnership! First with the Banque Populaire Foundation, then with Banque Populaire Val de France. It’s a genuinely human, long-term relationship… Beyond the financial aspect, which enables me to fund my internships and pay my team, there’s the long-term human aspect which is very important. They’re there for me even in difficult times. We athletes have our ups and downs, and it’s very important to have a partner who’s there…all the time!

* An “extended play” musical recording that contains more tracks than a single but fewer than an album or LP.