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A Belgian shot-putter hops over hurdles after answering her team's call for help

Jolien Boumkwo competed in the 100-meter hurdles at the European Athletics Team Championships, in Chorchow, Silesia, Poland, this weekend, answering her team's call for help in securing two points in the competition.
Erik Van Leeuwen
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BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images
Jolien Boumkwo competed in the 100-meter hurdles at the European Athletics Team Championships, in Chorchow, Silesia, Poland, this weekend, answering her team's call for help in securing two points in the competition.

When a top Belgian hurdler couldn't race in the European Athletics Team Championships, her team turned to its top shot-putter. So Jolien Boumkwo gamely ran the women's 100 meters hurdles, delivering two points for her team. She did it all with a smile.

"I really love it," Boumkwo said afterward, as videos of the towering athlete, gingerly bouncing her way over each hurdle on Saturday, became a sensation.

One day earlier, Boumkwo had finished seventh in the shot put, an event in which she recently broke her own national record. Normally, that would have been the end of her competition at the championships in Poland.

But she was called to duty on Saturday after Anne Zagré, the Belgian national record-holder in the 100-meter hurdles, was forced out with an injury. The country's Hanne Claes was also out. And with a Swiss hurdler disqualified in Heat A, it was up to Boumkwo to seize two points for Belgium.

"My team is the most important thing for me," Boumkwo told Agence France-Presse, adding, "I couldn't let it happen to lose by one point."

Boumkwo said she immediately said yes when her team asked whether she could possibly run hurdles, and her coach agreed — as long as she did it carefully. After all, as Boumkwo told Belgian public broadcaster Sporza, they sometimes include hurdles in her training.

Aside from the novelty of the event, Boumkwo said, it was unusual for her to feel like everyone in the stadium had their eyes on her.

With good reason. In the footage, Boumkwo waved as she was introduced, taking her spot in the blocks. There was no question of where she would finish: Although the shot-putter got through the race cleanly, her rivals were already facing their third set of hurdles as she got over her first obstacle.

At the finish line, Boumkwo's fellow racers greeted her with high-fives and handshakes. She set a season-best time of 32.81.

Her national team thanked her for her sacrifice, saying it was part of athletics — "and that's why we love it so much!"

If her two points might help Belgium stay in the top division, Boumkwo told Sporza, it would be worth it.

Despite Boumkwo's heroics, Belgium faces relegation to Division 2 in the next European Athletics Team Championships, having finished 14th out of 16 teams, just behind Greece. In the biennial competition, the bottom three Division 1 teams are relegated and replaced by the top three Division 2 teams.

But that hasn't stopped Belgium — and as of this week, legions of its track team's newest fans — from celebrating Boumkwo's athleticism and her commitment to helping her team.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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