Paris 2024 | Much more than Van Aert, Evenepoel and Kopecky – these five Belgians are also aiming for medals

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Paris 2024 | Much more than Van Aert, Evenepoel and Kopecky – these five Belgians are also aiming for medals

Alexander Doom – on a medal hunt within 44 seconds?

Alexander Doom is perhaps the man of the moment in athletics. The 27-year-old Belgian has regularly impressed in recent months and recently showed his good form in the run-up to the Games at the European Championships in Rome. In the Italian capital he was crowned European champion in the 400 meters with a surplus and a Belgian record time.

He shattered the twelve-year-old Belgian record for that distance – Jonathan Borlée ran 44.43 at the 2012 Games. With a time of 44.15, a world-class time, Doom dived well under the magical limit of 45 seconds, and comes close to the lower limit of 44. An achievement that makes one dream of more, especially Olympic medals.

At the beginning of March, Doom already won gold in the 400 meters at the World Indoor Athletics Championships in Glasgow, Scotland, also with a national record time. He thus became the first male Belgian athlete to win an individual number at the World Indoor Championships. A day later he won again, this time in the 4×400 meters, where he was the final runner and gave the Belgian Tornados – the male relay team – a gold medal. He did that trick again in Rome.

Doom is a formidable opponent in both the individual numbers and the relay for the world top players who are hunting for a medal in Paris. The Belgian may be in the form of his life and confirmed he is ready for the Games, provided the physical discomfort he experienced in Rome does not recur. On the other hand: if he was able to achieve such a top time at the European Championships with a dormant injury, he could also come up with a surprise at the Seine.

Paris 2024 | Much more than Van Aert, Evenepoel and Kopecky – these five Belgians are also aiming for medals

Alexander Doom even manages to defeat Karsten Warholm

Photo: Getty Images

Nafi Thiam – third Olympic gold in the heptathlon?

While Alexander Doom is not yet an absolute certainty of a medal in Paris, Nafi Thiam is. The 29-year-old heptathlete has already won Olympic gold twice, in 2016 and 2021, and was crowned three-time European champion in Rome. A record.

With that performance, a championship record, Thiam put an end to all doubts. Because they were there. The Belgian, plagued by injuries, still had to qualify for the Olympic Games at the European Championships. It was “risky”, trying to get a ticket only three weeks before the deadline. All’s well that ends well.

A year of isolation in South Africa had clearly done Thiam good. This way she was able to fully recover from an Achilles tendon injury that had been making her life miserable since 2019 and kept her from participating in the World Cup last year. The European Championship confirmed that the two-time world champion, who has also been voted Sportswoman of the Year in Belgium four times, is completely pain and injury free.

In the Olympic Stadium she proved to have exceptional fitness, and no shortage of hunger for new successes. She set a personal record in the final 800 meters in the Italian capital.

With 6,848 points it was her third best heptathlon of her career. She even scored higher than her Olympic titles in Rio (6,810 points) and Tokyo (6,791 points). And there is still room for improvement, Thiam indicated in an interview with the Belgian media. She described her condition as “a brutal form“, or a rough form level, which she will continue to refine in the coming weeks. That is promising!

Emma Meesseman – center and captain of the Belgian Cats

Captain of the Belgian Cats, the Belgian basketball women, Emma Meesseman won almost everything there was to win last year. The 31 year old center achieved a historic treble with Fenerbahce Istanbul – the Turkish club won the national title, the cup and the Euroleague Women in the same season – and was named MVP of the season because of her exceptional performance on the court. Meesseman and the Cats are heading to Paris with sky-high ambitions, and this is why.

In 2023, the Belgian ladies were crowned European basketball champions. In a real nail-biter, the Cats defeated Spain in the final of the European Championship. There they proved to be the best European country participating in the Olympic Games. It is a carefully balanced team, full of strong players who can make a difference at any time and a national coach – the Frenchman Rachid Méziane – who is tactically extremely gifted and knows how to get the most out of his selection.

In addition to Meesseman, Belgium can also count on Julie Allemand, who is currently still working on her comeback after an injury, and Julie Vanloo. Allemand has been the best assister in European Championship history since the previous European Championship. Vanloo is a regular with the Washington Mystics in the WNBA, the highest North American basketball league for women.

Speaking of the USA: the Belgian Cats pushed the US, reigning world and Olympic champions, to the limit in early February in a friendly match that was only decided on the buzzer. Meesseman and co. have no intention of hiding in Paris.

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Meesseman’s expectations are high, very high. Even Team USA has to fear

Photo: Getty Images

Matthias Casse – judoka feels the pressure of having to travel to Paris

Judoka Matthias Casse won gold at the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics, so there is a lot of pressure to do just as well in Paris and defend his title. But the 27-year-old from Antwerp doesn’t mind. “I’m going for gold,” he recently said in a preview of the Games to the Flemish media.

There is no lack of confidence in Casse, first in the world ranking in the weight class up to 81 kilos. However, he has not had perfect preparation for it. At the Judo World Championships in Abu Dhabi, he already tripped over the young Russian Timur Arbuzov in the eighth finals. With gold in 2021 and silver in ’19, ’22 and ’23, Casse had a subscription to the World Cup finals, but this year it was not to be. Not a good sign at first glance, but the Belgian qualified that the World Cup is not his most important appointment of the year.

For Casse, there is only one competition: the Olympic Games. He did not let the slip affect his self-confidence. “You can learn a lot more from a loss than from a win. I learned things that I will take with me into the future.” Casse admitted that he did not have perfect preparation, but he did not complain. “I have completed good internships and things are going as they should.”

Nina Derwael – gymnast tempers expectations ahead of Paris 2024

Of the Belgian top players, there are perhaps the most doubts about Nina Derwael. Only 51 days before the Games, the Olympic champion on the uneven bars was able to qualify for Paris due to injuries. The Belgian gymnast has had a busy year. She had to simultaneously recover from shoulder surgery and get her Olympic spot.

And then the disappointment of the European Championships in Rimini had to come, where she did not reach the final. Nevertheless, the tournament also gave an impulse. “Rimini was the right competition at the right time. My energy and motivation got a boost there.” After the European Championships, Derwael also knew which exercise she will perform on the bridge in the French capital on 28 July. What we already know: the starting value will be 6.5, it will be a flowing exercise that is certainly feasible.

Initially, Derwael tempered expectations for Paris, and indicated that she did not expect to win a medal. The Flemish media and her coach raised their eyebrows. As her preparation went better and better, the 24-year-old herself also changed her mind and realized that she could reach the final with her new exercise. “And then anything is possible.”

Expectations are high, despite the far from ideal circumstances. However, Derwael, who can do all the moves with her shoulder again thanks to the surgeons and the medical team, still fears that she will “disappoint people” in Paris. In Belgium, however, they are optimistic about the medal chances of one of the best gymnasts in the world.

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Nina Derwael can perform all the moves, but how much should she apply?

Photo: Getty Images

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