Gold medalists and 5th graders run together at the Sports School Games

Updated on 14/05/2024
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School sports games at the Suzanne Lenglen sports center
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During a week of events organized by the City, almost 14,000 school kids took part in individual sporting events, para-sport initiations and cultural activities linked to the Paris 2024 Games.
Friday's are different when you're a kid. For the four fifth grade classes gathered at the Suzanne-Lenglen stadium (15th arrondissement), Friday March 29 didn't just mean the end of the week. It smacked of the Paris 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games. That morning, it was all about games.
For two hours, each class became an Olympic delegation and the opening ceremony began at 9:15 AM. Up stepped the Olympic torchbearer, followed by his classmates behind a banner bearing the name of their school: Dupleix, Saïda, Frères Voisin or Vigée Lebrun. Let the Games begin.

A 2024-metre race with gold medalists

A crowd of CM2 children take to the track with Paralympic athlete Charles-Antoine Kouakou.
This special City of Paris event was organized by physical education and sports teachers from around the capital. The week of activities showcased sports and the Olympic spirit to 14,000 fifth grade pupils at 27 of the city's sports facilities. The aim was to celebrate the Games sportsmen and women, with a view to promoting inclusion in sport. That morning, two Paralympic gold medal athletes, Mandy François-Élie and Charles-Antoine Kouakou, visited the school. Two champions sponsored by VISA, an official partner of the Paris 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
The two para-athletics champions watched different groups take on three different sports, in which each participant will took turns to take part in. First up, a 2024-meter run on an athletics track. Mandy François-Élie, triple Paralympic medalist in the 100m and 200m T37, kicked it off. "On your marks? Get set. Go!" With that, the fifty or so children were off. With Charles-Antoine Kouakou, winner of the 400m T20 at the Tokyo 2021 Games, sticking out like a sore thumb among the crowd. He just couldn't help himself, making his way tot the front to lead the pack at jogging pace, followed as best he could by the pupils who were only too happy to share the track with a champion.
Official partners of the Games
Throughout this School Sports Games week, a number of partners (Carrefour, Orange, VISA) joined forces with the City of Paris to offer a variety of activities for pupils, from raising awareness to the dangers of the internet to discovering sign language.

"I want to set an example through sport".

Mandy François-Elie shows off her Paralympic bronze medal.
After a few laps, as the first students crossed the finish line, Mandy François-Élie spotted a young girl who had fallen behind and seemed ready to give up. She caught up with her and started running alongside her. Together, they completed the five laps of the track, arriving to rapturous applause from the student's classmates. The athlete explained: "I could see she was having trouble. She's slightly disabled, so it wasn't easy for her, but she did it! I really enjoy being here to talk with the kids, but also to help them and set an example through sport. That's important."
In 2008, Mandy François-Élie was the victim of a stroke aged just 18. She came to with hemiparesis and is partially paralyzed on the right side of her body. Before her stroke, she was all ready an aspiring track and field athlete. She never gave up sports and won a medal in every Paralympic Games she competed in. "My gold medal in London in 2012 is an incredible memory," she recalls, misty eyed. I couldn't speak, even after a lap of honor. It's stuck in my mind and I still think about it.

Taking part in para-sports

Mandy François-Élie also brought up another highlight of her career: her bronze medal from the 2021 Tokyo Paralympic Games. After the 2024 metre race, she gave the kids memories of their own by taking their pictures, medals proudly in hand. Meanwhile, Charles-Antoine Kouakou is busy signing autographs and answering the children's many questions: "How come you run so fast? Do you know Usain Bolt? How do you get to run in the Games?"
The kids were also given an introduction to visually impaired sport. Paired up, one kid put on a mask over their eyes, while the other guided his partner through an obstacle course. Once they got to the end, the masked kid then had to throw a vortex (a cross between a small javelin and a ball, made of foam) as close as possible to where his or her teammate was standing.

I'm practicing the Marseillaise because I want to sing it again this summer!

Charles-Antoine Kouakou
Tokyo Paralympic Games gold medallist in 400m (t20)
Among the pupils was Charles-Antoine, who lent himself to the game. There he goes, the fifth graders instructions: "Forward! Keep moving! No, stop, stop! To the left,there you go!" The pair stayed together throughout til the end under the watchful eye of the child's delighted mother: "It's a great. It raises disability awareness and more broadly, makes for some great moments!"

The future champions are in good hands

Charles-Antoine Kouakou is surrounded by three children and signing autographs.
The 400m T20 gold medalist didn't disagree. "It was great to be here," he says. "Talking to the students, signing autographs, answering their questions about sport and my life. I want to get them to take up running or sports." When asked about his goal for the Paris 2024 Games, he leaves no doubt: "I'm going for gold. I have great memories of being on the podium in Tokyo and singing La Marseillaise. I'm practicing the song because I want to sing it again this summer!"
As the closing ceremony takes place for this lively bunch of kids, four boys and four girls were called to the podium to celebrate their performances on the day. Each school had two medal winners. "That's what sports is all about: competitiveness and inclusion", smiled Frederic Gleize, a PE teacher giving out the medals. Smiles all round.