(Quebec) Ten years passed between Jean-Simon Desgagnés’ running debut and his eighth place at the World Championships during the summer. The 3000m steeplechase specialist now has 10 months ahead of him to become an Olympic medalist.
” I am 25. Theoretically, I’m not at my peak yet. It’s motivating,” says the athlete we met at PEPS at Laval University.
The campus is Desgagnés’ second home. This is where he trains most of the year, when he’s not in training camp in the mountains of Arizona. It is also here that he studies medicine.
All the sacrifices, all the hours around the track paid off last August when Desgagnés finished 8e in the 3000m steeplechase at the World Championships.
A feat “which does not come out of nowhere”, in the words of his coach, Félix-Antoine Lapointe, and which practically guarantees him a place at the Paris Olympic Games next summer.
The steeplechase event remains little known in Quebec, which is surprising given the habit that Quebecers have of going around construction sites or orange cones.
How would I explain the steeplechase at a family dinner? It’s a 3000 meter race where each lap there are five hurdles to cross, and one of them is a river of water!
Desgagnés grew up between Quebec and Saint-Ferréol-les-Neiges in a sports family. He played football and hockey throughout high school.
“Quickly, I understood that in football, basketball or hockey, I was not going to be among the best. Both in terms of my size and my skills, I was not in the top. I stopped at CEGEP because the level was no longer adequate for me. »
As for a lot of young fans of team sports, running was for him “the punishment”, the thing you do without enthusiasm because you have to do it. A high school physical education teacher still finds that he has talent. Desgagnés signed up for a few races under his encouragement, then obtained good results.
At CEGEP, he gave up football and hockey and joined the athletics team. The results come quickly. “After two years of serious training, I won the 3000m and 5000m at the Canadian junior championship. »
Then he started training with the Rouge et Or. “I was at CEGEP and I saw the guys aged 22 to 25 who were training, who were having fun, who were having fun… Before, for me, the race, it was the punishment of team sports. I was included in the gang. I loved it. I fell in love with sport. »
And sport has paid him back.
“We allow ourselves to dream”
Desgagnés’ trainer says it without hiding, the runner exceeded expectations with his eighth place in the final in Budapest. “Our goal was to qualify among the 16 in the final. It was a realistic, but ambitious goal,” says Félix-Antoine Lapointe, head coach of the Quebec teams at Athlétisme Québec.
Desgagnés is overall fast over all middle distance distances. In January 2022, he managed to run the mile in less than four minutes, which barely a handful of Quebecers have managed to do.
But with his technical skills, it is really in the steeplechase that he stands out. His coach believes his background in football, basketball and hockey helps him in this aspect.
Desgagnés also stands out for his consistency. Every year, he sharpens his legs, lowers his times. He attributes this success in part to his gym training, carried out with Alex Harvey’s former physical trainer, Charles Castonguay.
“I’m a little less injured than average. I’m lucky to have a body like that, but I think it’s also the work I put in in the gym. I spend between six and eight hours a week doing strengthening and physio exercises,” explains the runner.
“These are not things that necessarily allow me to run faster, but they have allowed me to run 365 days a year for 7 years. »
This year, however, the athlete deviated from his slow and inexorable progression with results… beyond expectations.
At the 2022 World Championships, he finished 36e. Go from 36e at 8e in the world in one year, you don’t see that often.
Félix-Antoine Lapointe, coach of Jean-Simon Desgagnés
The two men now have 10 months to prepare for Paris. With his exploit in Hungary, Desgagnés is now ranked 12e world rank in the 3000m steeplechase. The top 36 will earn a place at the Games.
This ranking provides something of a cushion to the runner. He won’t need to deliver an exaggerated number of races between now and the summer in hopes of improving his ranking. He will be able to devote himself entirely to his preparation, to the high altitude camps, to his medical studies.
“We have to learn from the good moves that allowed him to finish 8e at the Worlds and improve the small details so that this 8e square turns into 5e or even in 3e place in Paris, says the coach. We allow ourselves to dream. »
And at 25, Desgagnés can even hope for a second Olympic cycle. “I’m excited about the Paris Games. But it won’t stop there, he is still young, argues Félix-Antoine Lapointe. If he finds ways to combine sport and his medical studies, he could be even better in 2028.”