“I just feel so different from 18 months ago. I’ve learnt so much”
Fabrice Lapierre is discussing the finer points of his training when a lovely brunette with powerful quadriceps – a fellow athlete, surely – butts in. She knows he’s flying out the next day to attend his sister’s wedding in Mauritius and wants to know if he’ll be coming back to Sydney before returning to his training base in the US. “Yeah,” Lapierre mumbles. “I’ll see you when I get back. Maybe.”
“Let me know when you’re back,” she says, smiling over her shoulder. You know zip about the relationship between these
two – and don’t ask – but in this exchange she’s keen and he’s cool.
Yep – ol’ Fabrice can pick and choose right now. And yet not long ago his life was in free fall. Having reacted badly to missing the 2012 London Olympics because of injury, he spent the best part of the next two years training, as Rocky would say, like a bum. Rio seemed impossibly far away and quitting the sport was an option.
“I was lost,” Lapierre admits. “I was training, but my heart wasn’t in it. I ate whatever I wanted. My confidence had fallen apart, and this sport is all about confidence. I spent a lot of time playing video games and staying up late.”
The Lapierre lesson lies in what he did next. Living in Texas at the time and without a coach or loved one nearby to lift his spirits, he had to make the first move. Saving his career ultimately meant absorbing some hard truths from a hard man, heading west, and relearning the art of the long jump.
The payoff could be big. He’ll jump in Rio with as good a chance as any of winning gold. “I’m more motivated than I’ve ever been. You can come back from a low point and chase your dream.”
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The shadows are lengthening on an autumnal Sydney pearler, the day after long-jump competition at the Australian Athletics Championships, where a jet-lagged Lapierre prevailed with a leap of 8.27 metres – solid by any standard. He’s spent the day with the Rio-bound athletics squad at the headquarters of team sponsor Optus in the city’s north, being fitted for uniforms and prepped on logistics. Now he’s kicking back on a sofa in one of the campus’s long, sunlit corridors.
The turnaround, he says, started with a phone call made from the doldrums – to a coach he knew who worked under the acclaimed Dan Pfaff at the ALTIS athletic facility in Phoenix, Arizona. Head coach Pfaff, who’s guided Olympic champions in sprinting and long jump, is known as a soft-spoken, freethinking straight shooter, which is precisely what Lapierre encountered when the pair sat down in Phoenix in late 2014.
“He told me exactly what he thought,” recalls Lapierre. “He said he’d seen me compete a few times and that he didn’t like the way I ran or the way I jumped.”
Lapierre didn’t bother taking offence. He knew it was a case of change or perish, and this single conversation convinced him to uproot and move to Phoenix.
Jump In Class
For the first four or five months at ALTIS, Lapierre struggled. Pfaff prescribed all manner of drills aimed at remodelling the newcomer’s running technique. The emphasis was less on fixing flaws than adopting new habits pertaining to foot strike and push-off, Lapierre says. “It felt like I was going to long-jump school. He was the teacher and I was the student sitting there learning new things all the time.”
The result? Extra speed! Think of long jumpers as crack sprinters who leap into next week at the end of a 45m run-up. Lapierre does the 100 these days in 10.3 seconds. YouTube the great jumps of all-time. Start with American Bob Beamon’s “Leap of the Century” in Mexico in 1968, when he smashed the old world record by a ridiculous 55 centimetres. Beamon’s record stood for 23 years until his fellow countryman Mike Powell bettered it in 1991. Powell’s mark of 8.95m has stood ever since.
While it’s unlikely Lapierre or any of his contemporaries will be the guy to break it, at 32 he reckons he’s poised to bust his own PB of 8.40m – set back in 2010 – and challenge for gold in Rio. Form? He’s coming off silvers at the last World Championships and World Indoor titles.
Pfaff overhauled the Australian’s jumping technique as well. “I’ve always been known as the guy who jumps high – a lot of height off the board,” says Lapierre. “But what was happening, I was slowing down on approach to the board, losing a bit of speed and leaning back at a bad angle, so I was popping up. He (Pfaff) said: ‘It looks really cool but it’s not getting you the distance you want’.” These days, Lapierre launches at greater velocity into a flatter trajectory – “and I fight for every inch in the air”.
His training emphasises two qualities: speed and power. For speed, Lapierre devotes one session a week to acceleration over 20, 30 and 40m. For the long jumper, there’s no need to jam these efforts between short rests. Better to recover fully before going again. In another session, Lapierre will do his sprints over 70 and 80m – that’s as close as he gets to endurance work. His sinewy power is built in the gym, in thrice-weekly sessions that favour load over volume.
“I just feel so different compared to 18 months ago,” he says. “I’ve learnt so much. You tell yourself, ‘Knuckle down, stay motivated and keep listening’. Do that and you give yourself a shot at achieving whatever you want most.”
Get Spring Loaded
Keeping your back straight, lift the barbell off the floor until you’re holding it under your chin. “Speed is key,” says Lapierre. “The weight should be heavy but not so heavy you can’t move it quickly.”
Do 5 sets of 2 reps
2. Bench press
Lying on a bench, unrack the barbell and lower it slowly to your chest before driving it up until your elbows almost lock out. “My coach says this one raises testosterone levels.”
Do sets of 5, 4, 3 and 2 reps, then a 1RM set
Keeping your back flat and head up, straighten up to lift a heavily loaded barbell off the floor.
Do 3 sets of 4 reps
4. Jump squat
Holding a dumbbell in each hand at your sides, squat to parallel before jumping as high as you can with control.
Do 3 sets of 8 reps
5. Russian twist
From lying on your back, raise your feet and upper body off the ground. Holding a medicine ball in both hands, move it from your left to right sides.
Do three sets of 45 seconds
6. Calf raise
With your toes on a weight plate, squeeze your calves and stand up on your toes. Hold and repeat.
Do 3 sets of 30 reps, varying your toe position (straight, pointed out, pointed in) every 10 reps
Click here for The Road To Rio: Aaron Royle