Belgium heads for World Indoor Athletics Championships with high hopes

Belgium is taking its biggest ever delegation to the World Indoor Athletics Championships, which begin on Friday in Glasgow, Scotland. Heptathlete Noor Vidts and the men’s 4 x 400m relay team will be defending their world indoor titles.

Two years ago, Belgium returned from the tournament in Belgrade, Serbia, with two gold medals. Only Tia Hellebaut had previously taken a world indoor title, winning gold in the pentathlon in 2008.

“The level in Belgium has risen enormously in recent years,” says Rutger Smith of the Flemish Athletics League, who will manage the Belgian team in Glasgow. He also sees a change in mentality among athletes. “They are no longer content to have qualified, but they go there to perform. To advance, get to the finals or even win medals.”

Since the first edition of the tournament in 1987 in Indianapolis, USA, Belgium has won nine medals. Three went to the Belgian Tornados relay team, who took silver in 2010, bronze in 2018 and gold in 2022. The team will be competing again this year but will be without Julien Watrin, who was recently diagnosed with testicular cancer.

"Belgian athletes are no longer content to have qualified, but they go there to perform. To advance, get to the finals or even win medals"

The Belgian Cheetahs, the Tornados' female counterparts, finished last in the final two years ago and are hoping for a better result this time around. Belgian record-holder Cynthia Bolingo will only compete in the relay and not the individual 400m. Teammates Camille Laus, Helena Ponette, Naomi Van Den Broeck and Imke Vervaet are in good form and a medal is a possibility.

Noor Vidts shone in the pentathlon in Belgrade in 2022 with a world title and a Belgian record of 4,929 points. Her record was later beaten by Nafi Thiam, who won gold at last year’s European Championships in Istanbul with a new world record of 5,055 points, while Vidts took bronze. Thiam, a two-time Olympic heptathlon champion, will not compete in Glasgow as she is focusing on this summer’s Paris games.

Ones to watch

“The most important tournament for most athletes is the Olympics,” said Smith. “Every athlete has a different programme to prepare for it. If the indoor season doesn’t fit into the schedule and isn’t optimal for them, then obviously it’s no problem to skip it.”

The Belgian team includes several other athletes who have won medals at major indoor events. These include 1,500m runner Elise Vanderelst, who won gold at the European Championships in 2021, 800m runner Eliott Crestan, who took bronze at the European Championships in 2023 and will face competition from national record holder Tibo De Smet, and high jumper Thomas Carmoy, bronze medallist in 2021 and 2023.

Other Belgians to keep an eye on are pole vaulter Ben Broeders, new Belgian record holder in the 60m hurdles Michael Obasuyi, sprint star Rani Rosius and John Heymans, who will compete in the 3,000m.


Noor Vidts in action during the Belgian indoor athletics championships, 18 February 2024 in Ottignies-Louvain-la-Neuve © BELGA PHOTO JASPER JACOBS

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