Alain Mimoun in 2001
|Birth name||Ali Mimoun Ould Kacha|
1 January 1921|
|Died||27 June 2013
|Height||1.70 m (5 ft 7 in)|
|Weight||56 kg (123 lb)|
|Event(s)||5,000 metres, 10,000 metres, marathon and cross-country running|
Alain Mimoun (1 January 1921 – 27 June 2013) was an Algerian-born French long-distance runner who competed in track events, cross-country running and the marathon. He was the 1956 Olympic champion in the marathon. He is the most medalled French athletics sportsperson in history. In 1999, readers of the French athletics magazine Athlétisme voted him as the “French Athlete of the 20th Century”.
On the track Mimoun won three Olympic silver medals, finishing second behind Emil Zátopek in the 10,000 metres final in 1948 and again second behind him in both the 5,000 metres and 10,000 metres finals in 1952. He was also the silver medallist in both events behind Zátopek at the 1950 European Athletics Championships. Between 1949 and 1958 he won four individual titles at the International Cross Country Championships as well as placing runner-up twice. He was a four-time gold medallist at the Mediterranean Games, completing the 5,000 m/10,000 m double in both 1951 and 1955.
Born in Algeria, Mimoun fought military battles for France and the Western Allies during World War II . He settled in metropolitan France shortly after leaving the French army. Overall he represented France at the Olympics on four occasions (1948 to 1960). He competed internationally for France on 86 occasions. From 1947 to 1966, he won a total of 29 senior titles in the 5000 m, 10000 m, marathon and cross-country events of the French national championships. Mimoun continued to run in his later life and set a number of veteran age-category records.
- 1 Early life
- 2 World War Two and early running career
- 3 Running career from 1948 onwards
- 4 Later life and legacy
- 5 Family and personal life
- 6 Honours
- 7 Death, tributes and funeral
- 8 Personal bests
- 9 Competition record
- 10 References
- 11 External links
Alain Mimoun was born Ali Mimoun Ould Kacha in the arrondissement of Maïder in the town of Telagh, Algeria, into a very poor, Arab-Berber family. Ali was the oldest of seven children in the family and his parents were peasants. His mother, Halima, also weaved blankets for a living. He had always been a model pupil in primary school. When he was eleven, he finished his primary school education and obtained a certificate with mention bien. In view of his good academic results, his illiterate mother wanted him to become a primary school teacher. She applied for a scholarship for Ali after being told to do so by some colonists who had come to visit her. Ali was denied the scholarship - it was the only application rejected by the school - that could have enabled him to further his studies. He noted that sons of colonists with worse grades than him obtained their scholarships. When Ali learned of his scholarship rejection, he told his mother that Algeria was not his country and that his country was on the other side of the Mediterranean, even though he was against colonization. He said that as a teenager, he would dream that he was in front of maps and show France to his mother. Ali first worked as a mason, and then in a hardware shop when he was fourteen. He said that hardware shop owner was a Frenchman who came from France, was an admirable man who treated him like his son and with whom he would eat on the same table. Ali started to play association football when he was twelve and practice cycling when he was fifteen.
World War Two and early running career
Mimoun enlisted into the French Army one day before he turned 18, which was before he was due to be conscripted. He was posted to an infantry regiment. In September 1939, he was mobilised to the Franco-Belgian border. He spent nine months there in anticipation of the German offensive campaign - the Battle of Belgium. He engaged in combat at the Franco-Belgian border. After the fall of Belgium to the Germans in May 1940, his regiment retreated south into northern France, where he avoided being captured by the German army near Valenciennes. After France was defeated by the Germans in June 1940, Mimoun was posted to Bourg-en-Bresse in the Free Zone of Vichy France. When he was there, he discovered almost by accident a talent for long-distance running. He said that he joined in a race as he was passing a suburban track with some friends. While he was in Bourg-en-Bresse, he would train regularly in a stadium next to the military barracks. One day, he competed in some local racing events without any preparations. He won his first running event, the 1500-meter Ain departmental championship, in front of 4,000 spectators. In that event, he beat the defending champion, thus ending his six-year reign as champion. He then finished a 5000-meter race in under sixteen minutes. This prompted a local journalist to write, "A marathoner is born. He could become an Olympic champion." In 1942, Mimoun was posted to a regiment of combat engineers based in Besançon. Later that year, he was transferred to Algeria, where he won numerous races on track and in cross country, including the 1942 North African cross country running championship title.
Mimoun's running career was interrupted when he was called up to fight for the Western Allies in the Tunisia Campaign and then in the Italian Campaign. In the Tunisia Campaign, he fought against the Afrika Korps under the command of General Henri Giraud. In July 1943, he was sent to fight in the Italian Campaign, where he was a lance corporal in the 83rd combat engineers battalion of the Algerian 3rd infantry division of the French Expeditionary Corps commanded by Marshal Alphonse Juin. On 28 January 1944, during the Battle of Monte Cassino, Mimoun was seriously injured by fragmentation in his left leg originating from shells fired by the Germans. American doctors working in the field hospital recommended its amputation. Determined not to lose his leg, he refused. Fortunately, a French surgeon there managed to successfully perform an operation and his left leg was saved. He was later sent to a Naples hospital for convalescence. He recovered sufficiently to the extent that he could still engage in military combat in the last part of World World II. In the summer of 1944, Lance Corporal Mimoun participated in the Allied invasion of France from the Mediterranean Sea. After that campaign, he was involved in the liberation of the Jura Mountains from the German troops. He spent the winter of 1944-1945 in the Vosges Mountains before taking part in the Western Allied invasion of Germany. He spent about one year in Germany.
After his stint in the army in Europe had ended, Mimoun returned to Algeria where he continued to participate in running events. He was demobilised in 1946 while he was in Algiers. Upon leaving the French Army after seven years of service, he moved from Algeria to Paris. There, he signed up with the Racing Club de France, a famous sports club, and began calling himself Alain. He would also train at the Bois de Boulogne and he worked as a waiter in a café-bar at the Racing Club de France, which was then located at the Bois de Boulogne. In October 2002 and March 2012, Mimoun spoke of his difficult return to civilian life, "I was a café waiter. I did not have enough to eat. I won four Olympic medals while I was living in a small, two-room apartment (in the 19th arrondissement of Paris) without heating, shower and toilet."  Mimoun caused a major surprise by finishing second in the 1946 French national championships 10000-meter race, despite having lost a shoe during the race. He made his international debut the following year when he represented France in an athletics meeting against Czechoslovakia in Prague. He established himself at national level in 1947 when he clinched his first French national championships titles, taking a track double in the 5000 metres and 10,000 metres races.
Running career from 1948 onwards
Before the 1956 Olympic Games
Mimoun rose to prominence internationally at the 1948 Summer Olympics. He was the runner-up in the 10,000 m final held at the Wembley Stadium on 31 July, behind Czechoslovakian runner Emil Zátopek. Zátopek was dominant and lapped all competitors bar Mimoun and bronze medallist Bertil Albertsson. Mimoun finished 47.8 seconds and more than 300 meters behind Zátopek. Mimoun also ran in the 5000 m event of the 1948 Summer Olympics but did not progress to the final round. The following year he won the 5000 m and 10000 m French national championships titles and won his first major race at the International Cross Country Championships in Dublin, finishing ahead of compatriot Raphaël Pujazon in the individual event. He also led France to the team title.
He claimed cross country and 10,000 m French national championships titles in 1950, but on the international stage he was again second best to Zátopek, taking the silver medals in the 5,000 m and 10,000 m events at the 1950 European Athletics Championships. At the 1950 International Cross Country Championships he was runner-up to Belgium's Lucien Theys in the individual race, but retained the team title with France. He won the 5000 m and 10000 m gold medals at the 1951 Mediterranean Games and swept the French national championships 5000 m, 10000 m and cross country titles in both 1951 and 1952.
Mimoun topped the podium for the individual and team events at the International Cross Country Championships in March 1952. The 1952 Helsinki Olympics saw by now a familiar sight: Zátopek claimed victory in the 5000 m and 10,000 m races and Mimoun was the silver medallist in both. In the 10,000 m final Mimoun finished 15.8 seconds behind Zátopek, but 15.4 seconds ahead of the bronze medallist Aleksandr Anufriyev. In the 5,000 m final, Mimoun, Herbert Schade and Christopher Chataway were in the lead entering the final bend of the last lap, with Zátopek in fourth place. Zátopek then made his move, and he took the lead halfway through the final bend and never relinquished it. Zátopek finished the 5000 m race 4.5m and 0.8 second ahead of Mimoun, with the latter improving his personal best by over 14 seconds. His second-place finishes behind the Czechoslovakian champion gave Mimoun the nickname "Zátopek's Shadow".
Away from Zátopek, Mimoun continued to dominate the French scene and claimed a third individual title at the International Cross Country Championships in 1954, although a foot injury left him unable to compete at the 1954 European Athletics Championships later that year. His 1955 was highlighted by the successful defence of his 5000m and 10000m track titles at both the 1955 Mediterranean Games and the French national championships.
On 10 Oct 1955 in Algiers, Mimoun beat the French national record for the one hour run that had been held by Jean Bouin since 6 July 1913. On that day, Mimoun ran a distance of 19 km 78 metres, compared to the 19 km 21 metres (which then became a new world record) ran by Bouin on 6 July 1913 in Stockholm.
Mimoun began 1956 in strong form, capturing the French national championships 5000m, 10000m and cross country titles, and winning what would be his fourth and final individual title at the International Cross Country Championships.
1956 Olympic Games
Mimoun entered the Olympic marathon race that took place in sweltering heat - the temperature went up to 100.4 degrees Farehnheit in the shade during the race - on Dec 1, 1956, with the defending champion Emil Zátopek in the starting line-up. He was certain that day would be his lucky day. Frenchmen had won the Olympic marathon in 1900 (Michel Théato), and 28 years later in 1928 (Boughera El Ouafi). Now, 28 years had passed since the last French victory in 1928. One month ago, he had gone on a pilgrimage to the Basilica of St. Thérèse in Lisieux, France. The day before the marathon, Mimoun received a telegram from his wife, Germaine, back in France telling him of the birth of their first child, a daughter called Olympe. Besides, Mimoun was wearing on his blue, French flag-bearing, running singlet what he considered to be the lucky number - number 13. The 1.70 m tall, 56 kg heavy Frenchman had never raced over the distance before but he excelled on his first attempt. The marathon started at 15:13 inside the Melbourne Cricket Ground. It had forty-six competitors representing twenty-three nations. The marathon had a false start, which was the first in Olympic history. The mustachioed Mimoun had a white bandana, embroidered with his wife’s initials, tied around the top of his head since the start of the race to protect himself from the sun's rays. A group of thirteen runners was leading the race after fifteen kilometers. At the twenty-kilometer mark, only five of them remained in that group. The American John J. Kelley patted Mimoun's back to urge him to take the lead together with him. The two of them then broke away from the leading group of runners, with Kelley briefly ahead of Mimoun. Mimoun surged forward during the uphill section of the course near the top of the hill, ran past Kelley and was solely in the lead before the halfway point of the marathon. By the 25-km mark he had opened a 50-second lead, and henceforth, no competitor came close to him again. In the last quarter of the race, Mimoun removed his white bandana from his head and threw it onto the road surface, because according to him, it "felt like a ton". 5 km from the finish line, he no longer took the cups of water on tables lining the course as he pulled further away from his fellow runners. Mimoun crossed the finish line in a time of 2:25:00, 1 minute and 32 seconds ahead of the runner-up Franjo Mihalić, in front of 110,000 spectators at the Melbourne Cricket Ground and before any other runner had entered the stadium. For the third time in a row, the Olympic marathon had been won by an athlete competing in his first marathon. It was the first time Mimoun had ever beaten Emil Zátopek in a running event. Mimoun had expected to see his great rival and close friend Zátopek finish second behind him. He waited at the finish line for the Czechoslovakian runner to arrive. Zátopek, who had undergone hernia surgery six weeks earlier, crossed the finishing line in sixth place, four minutes and thirty-four seconds after Mimoun. Grabbing Zátopek's shoulder, Mimoun asked, "Emil, why don't you congratulate me? I am an Olympic champion. It was I who won." Zátopek, who was then a colonel in the Czechoslovakian army, stood to attention, took off his white cap and saluted Mimoun. Zátopek then kissed and embraced Mimoun, saying, "You did great, Alain." In a later interview with Sports Illustrated, Mimoun said, "For me, that was better than the medal". That was the last time Mimoun raced against Zátopek.   "When I entered the stadium's tunnel and came out onto the track, cheered by 100,000 spectators, I experienced the finest minutes of my life," Mimoun said later.
Upon his return home from Melbourne, there were 15,000 persons, a hero's welcome and a red carpet awaiting Mimoun at Paris' Orly Airport. At the airport, he did not get a chance to walk on the red carpet as he was carried in triumph by the crowd. Thereafter, receptions were held in his honour for three months. The day after he arrived home from Melbourne, he returned to the regular job that he had been doing since 1946 - as a waiter in a café-bar at the Racing Club de France 
“I was sure Emil was there at my heels,” Mimoun told Sports Illustrated in 1972. “I was hoping he would be second. I was waiting for him. Then I thought, well, he would be third. It would be nice to stand on the podium with him again. But Emil came in sixth, oh, very tired. He seemed to be in a trance, staring straight ahead. He said nothing."  Mimoun later told a biographer, Pat Butcher, that he had been well-prepared for racing the Melbourne Olympics marathon. "I gorged myself on 40 km a day for two years, without telling a soul." "He would train three times a day, running a daily total distance of 35 km. It was certainly not for the 10,000-meter race, even though he had told me that he would not contest the marathon," said, Mimoun's wife, Germaine, during an interview in 2006 with AFP. Mimoun revealed that before leaving for Melbourne for the 1956 Olympics, he had done his final training in the Corrèze village of Bugeat, which resembled his native village in Algeria. In an interview conducted in October 2002, Mimoun said,"When I announced that I was going to run the 1956 Melbourne Olympics marathon, everyone told me that I was too old. The French, the foreigners and everyone were laughing except Zátopek."
Reflecting on the four Olympic medals that he had won, Mimoun remarked, "I compare my career to a castle: my London silver medal is the foundation; my two Helsinki silver medals are the walls; my gold medal in Melbourne is the roof."
Upon hearing the news of the death of Emil Zátopek in November 2000, he stated, "I have not lost an opponent, I have lost a brother."
After the 1956 Olympic Games
Mimoun did not compete in 1957 but returned in 1958 with a runner-up finish behind Stan Eldon in the individual race at the International Cross Country Championships and his first national marathon title. He placed seventh in the 10,000-meter event at the 1958 European Athletics Championships. In 1959 he came sixth in the individual race at the International Cross Country Championships, and won national titles in the marathon and cross country. As he neared his forties, his athletic powers began to decline. Although he continued to compete, he did not win a national title on grass or the track after 1959. Four further outings from 1960 to 1964 at the International Cross Country Championships saw finishes in the individual event ranging from 18th to 26th place.
Mimoun made the French team for the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome and placed 34th in the marathon. He won his final national championship title at the senior level - the marathon - in 1966, some twenty years after his debut. His career at the top of the national and international ranks finished at that point but he continued to be a presence as a veteran runner. At the age of 51, he completed a marathon in a time of 2:34:36.2. He set French age-category records for the 5000 m, 10,000 m, 20,000 m and the one hour run. He won a total of more than 80 French national running championships titles, including those for veteran athletes, the last one while in his seventies. In the last years of his life, he continued to jog or racewalk almost daily, up to 10–15 miles per day, on the roads and paths in the vicinity of his detached house in Champigny-sur-Marne in Val-de-Marne department, at the Bois de Vincennes and on the roads around Bugeat in Corrèze department.
Later life and legacy
After Mimoun arrived back home from the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, he mooted the idea of creating a world-class sports training center in France. In order to take advantage of better training facilities, he had to train overseas, especially in Sweden, for some of his running events. That was something that annoyed him and therefore he felt that it was necessary to build such a sports training center. Mimoun attempted to seek government funding to build it. After several failed attempts in previous years, he received a telephone call from Jacques Chirac to meet him in the Hôtel Matignon. During that meeting in 1967, Chirac, who was then a senior civil servant working as Prime Minister Georges Pompidou's technical adviser, told Mimoun, "I have followed your entire (running) career and I like your idea of creating a (sports) training center in Corrèze." The following day, Mimoun was received by the Sports Minister François Missoffe in his office and informed by him that government funding for the sports training center had been approved. The sports training center - initially named Centre national d'entraînement sportif - located in the Corrèze village of Bugeat, was later renamed Espace 1000 Sources. Right after Mimoun's funeral in July 2013, the sports training center was rechristened Centre sportif Alain Mimoun 
When Mimoun settled in metropolitan France after the end of World War II, he first lived in Paris. Then, he moved to Champigny-sur-Marne. He and his wife, Germaine, bought a second home in Bugeat and he would go to live there each summer.
In 1997, Mimoun protested in the strongest terms against the decision of the Comité national olympique et sportif français (CNOSF) to remove the Gallic rooster from the jerseys of French sportspersons.
For his successful running career and wartime military services, Mimoun received four Legion of Honour awards during his lifetime from four different presidents of France: Chevalier (1956), Officier (1972), Commandeur (1999) and Grand Officier(2008). He also received the Sporting Order of Merit (Ordre du Mérite sportif), Gloire du sport, and the National Order of Merit. He is the first French person of North African origin to receive the Legion of Honour. 
At the time of Mimoun's death, more than a hundred and fifty stadiums, schools and streets bore his name. More than 50 municipal athletics stadia in France were named Stade Alain Mimoun and more than a dozen streets in France were named after him.
Family and personal life
Mimoun's wife, Germaine, was born in Tulle, capital of the Corrèze département in the Limousin region in central France. She died in May 2013. Their first child, a daughter named Olympe, was born on Nov 30, 1956, one day before Mimoun won the 1956 Olympics marathon in Melbourne. They have another daughter, Pascale.
Mimoun converted from Islam to Roman Catholicism in 1955. Several months before the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, he had deep doubts about his ability to participate in those Olympics. In desperation, he let himself be driven by an atheist friend to the Basilica of St. Thérèse in Lisieux. One month after his pilgrimage there, he won the 1956 Olympics marathon. Mimoun asserted that he owed that marathon win to Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. Since that victory, he had been very attached to Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. He would go to the Basilica of St. Thérèse in Lisieux every year on a pilgrimage, in general on October 1 - the feast day of the saint. Prior to his death, he had a chapel constructed in the Bugeat cemetery to serve as his final resting place.
- Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur (1956) awarded by René Coty
- Officier de la Légion d'honneur (1972) awarded by Georges Pompidou
- Commandeur de la Légion d'honneur (1999) awarded by Jacques Chirac
- Grand officier de la Légion d'honneur (2008) awarded by Nicolas Sarkozy
- Chevalier de l'Ordre national du Mérite.
- Commandeur de l’Ordre du Mérite sportif.
- Gloire du sport.
- Champion des champions de L'Équipe (L'Équipe Champion of Champions) (1949 and 1956)
- named French Athlete of the 20th Century in 1999
- Trophée de champion des champions de légende (2012)
Death, tributes and funeral
Alain Mimoun died at the age of 92 in the evening of 27 June 2013 at the Hôpital d'instruction des armées Bégin in Saint-Mandé, in the departement of Val-de-Marne in the Île-de-France region. The cause of death was not disclosed.
In a communiqué made public by the Élysée Palace French President François Hollande wrote that Alain Mimoun was "a magnificent Frenchman" and "left a deep mark on the history of French sport". "Throughout his life, Alain Mimoun, who was born in Algeria, loved and served France. And he was very attached to his department of Corrèze," emphasized Hollande.
French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault emphasized Mimoun’s “exceptional victory” at the 1956 Olympics marathon and called him “a great servant of France who etched his name in the pantheon of French sport”. Ayrault concluded that “the death of Mimoun left France without one of her finest figures”.
The French minister of sports, Valérie Fourneyron, hailed Mimoun as "one of the most endearing and loved figures of French sport". "All French people will remember him as the most medalled French athletics sportsperson of all time, above all as a model of uprightness and kindness," added Fourneyron.
Michel Jazy, a French Olympic runner who shared a room with Mimoun for six weeks during the 1956 Olympics, remembered seeing him show the intensity and professionalism in order to succeed at the Olympics. "Alain was a role model for me. He would wake me up at 5:30 in the morning to go and run, and in the evening he would force me to go to bed at 8:30. Even though we were at the Olympics Games, I could not go to the parties in the Olympic village!" Jazy told RTL radio on the day after Mimoun's death.
The Comité national olympique et sportif français (CNOSF) described Mimoun as someone who "embodied selflessness and panache", "was devoted to the humanist values of sport" and "who would forever be among the sportspersons who had given French sport its finest hours". 
On 6 July 2013, a minute's silence in honour of Mimoun's memory was held in front of 50,000 sepctators during the 2013 edition of the Meeting Areva - an annual track and field event - that took place at the Stade de France.
Mimoun was accorded a state funeral will military honors. It was held on Monday, 8 July 2013 at 10am local time, in the main courtyard of the Hôtel national des Invalides in Paris. French President François Hollande presided over the ceremony, during which he paid homage to Mimoun. Retired French athletes like Stéphane Diagana, Michel Jazy and Marie-José Pérec attended the ceremony. In his eulogy, Hollande said,"Today, it is all of France which is paying homage to Alain Mimoun, to the one who ran throughout his life on the tracks of stadiums in order to make the La Marseillaise resound, seeking glory for his country everywhere." Hollande described Mimoun as "a courageous soldier, an exceptional sportsman and a fervent patriot" who was "loved by France" and stated, "To Alain Mimoun, France was a choice, a passion, a pride and an ideal." 
- 5,000 metres – 14 min 7.58 sec (1952 Olympic Games 5,000 m final)
- 10,000 metres – 29 min 13.4 sec (1956)
- Marathon – 2 hr 21 min 25 sec (1958)
- Information from Sports Reference profile.
International (only the position in the final is indicated)
Mimoun competed internationally for France on 86 occasions.
- International Cross Country Championships team event champion (representing France) in 1946, 1947, 1949, 1950, 1952 and 1956.
- North African Cross Country champion in 1942
- 5,000 m : 8 titles (1947, 1949, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1955 and 1956)
- 10,000 m : 9 titles (1947, 1949, 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1955, 1956)
- Marathon : 6 titles (1958, 1959, 1960, 1964, 1965 and 1966)
- 6 titles (1950, 1951, 1952, 1954, 1956 and 1959)
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