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‘I have never been this famous before … it’s crazy,’ says shot putter Jolien Boumkwo after competing in hurdles event

As she took to the start line of the 100-meter hurdles, Jolien Boumkwo was at first met with confusion, then amusement, then raucous support.

The Belgian shot putter emerged as an unlikely hero from the European Athletics Team Championships in Poland on Saturday after injuries to her teammates compelled her to step into the hurdles event at the last minute.

The race itself went as you’d imagine: while her competitors streaked away in front of her, Boumkwo jogged cautiously up to each hurdle and climbed gingerly over the barriers.

Boumkwo, who had placed seventh in the shot put the day before, eventually finished in 32.18 seconds – 19 seconds behind the next slowest athlete.

Still, she could at least celebrate a season’s best.

“I was really excited to see how many seconds or minutes I did during the race,” Boumkwo joked after glancing at the clock to see her finish time. “It was less than [one minute] so I’m proud of myself!”

With athletes awarded two points just for taking part in an event, the 29-year-old ran in the hurdles in an attempt to help Belgium avoid relegation from the first division.

“I was like: it would be a pity if just we would lose by one point so I will just take this on my account and just go for it and enjoy every moment,” said Boumkwo. “For me, that’s important as well when you’re doing sports at a high level.

“I checked with my coach if there were any risks for me doing it and he gave me a green light.”

Despite being a 12-time national champion in Belgium, Boumkwo has never previously received this much adulation after competing at an event. The crowd screamed their support as she ran towards the finish line, her teammates applauded her can-do spirit, and online she was inundated with positive messages.

“I’m really happy that this race symbolized something – the team spirit, the team playership – and that people from different situations – professionals, non-professionals, people who are not into sports – really see it and it really connects people,” she said.

“I have never been this famous before … It’s really crazy.”

It might yet turn out to be one of the most memorable occasions of her career in track and field.

“All the nice messages – it’s unbelievable,” Boumkwo said. “I’m really surprised … I hope that I can still enjoy this moment for a long time.”

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