Home-soil success a fillip for heroes

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 July, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 July, 1993, 12:00am

THERE is no better feeling for a sportsman to win a world championship event than on his home turf.

Just ask Alain Prost. France's long-time sporting hero steered his Williams-Renualt past the chequered flag in front of tens of thousands of roaring fans to win the French Formula One Grand Prix - his fifth for the season - at Magny Cours, earlier this month.

It was the veteran's fifth win for the season, consolidating his lead in the championships. He won his first Formula One race in 1981 and this was the 49th victory of his career.

Before the French Grand Prix, Prost had started from pole position a record seven times in succession, but not having pole at the French Grand Prix did him no harm. He grabbed the lead after 28 laps and held on to win from Williams' team-mate Damon Hill.

''I am very happy,'' an elated and proud Prost said after the race. ''It is the sixth time I have won the French Grand Prix.'' The French are among the world's greatest fans of motorsport, and this year has given them another reason to celebrate. Again on their home turf, the Peugeot team completed a clean sweep of the Le Mans 24-hour race.

Works Peugeot 905s finished first, second and third, holding off a challenge from the highly fancied Japanese Toyota team. Australian Geoff Brabham and co-drivers Frenchmen Christophe Bouchut and Eric Helary took first place. The winning Peugeot went 375 laps, a distance of 5,100 kilometres.

Rugby Union is starting to wear a proud face in France once again after a number of years of gloom.

The French team's latest achievement earlier this month was a series win against South Africa.

The tourists sealed the two-game series with an 18-17 victory at Ellis Park in Johannesburg in front of 66,000 fans.

The Tricolours drew the first test 20-20 in Durban.

France's hero at Ellis Park was 26-year-old centre Thierry Lacroix who scored 15 points from four penalty goals and a neatly slotted drop goal.

The Springboks have been constantly criticised for excessively rough play since returning to the international arena, but the French, no shrinking violets themselves, were able to handle everything thrown at them by a team desperate for victory at home in the rugged two-test series.

The balance of power of European rugby swung back across the English Channel in March as the Tricolours claimed the Five Nations title, dropping just one of their four games in scoring the most points and having the least scored against them.

For France, the result signalled their way out of the one of the darkest periods in the country's rugby history.

It was their first Five Nations title since 1989 and, over the previous three seasons, the team had been consistently humiliated by arch rivals England. Just before this year's Five Nations tournament, the team were beaten at home for the first time by Argentina.

''A couple of months ago, some said we would get the wooden spoon, but we . . . have won the championship,'' said French skipper Jean-Francois Tordo.

What was, for a while, a cause for national celebration is nearing one of national shame.

The euphoria which followed Marseille's 1-0 victory over AC Milan to secure France's first European Cup final has been all but buried under bribery allegations that has shaken this proud and powerful football nation.

But the country's - and the cycling world's - attention is now focused on the most famous cycling event of all, the Tour De France.

The event began on July 3, with a 6.8-kilometre prologue at Le Puy du Fou and will finish on July 25. During the 23 days, 180 riders will have raced 3,800 kilometres over 20 stages, faced the daunting challenge of climbing the Alps and the Pyrenees and sped across the finish line in Paris.

Total prize money for the tour is US$375,000.

A glance at the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games' medal table indicates France's reputation as a sporting nation.

The country finished ninth in the medal tally with eight gold, five silver and 16 bronze in events as diversified as middle-distance running to canoeing and cycling.