Champs of Picardy

© Lionel Bonaventure/AFP PHOTO

The French are noted for their good living as well as a relatively long life span. It’s the so-called French paradox. The southwest in particular is said to have relatively more centenarians than anywhere else in the country. 

Some locals put their longevity down to the fact that they use olive oil rather than butter in their cooking, while others thank moderate imbibing of the tannic local wines, their high concentration of pyrocyanidins, for their healthy hearts. 

Sporting champions

But in the north, far from the olives and wine country, lies Picardy, an ancient region that is noted more for its beetroot fields and cider, and also nowadays, for its rather ancient sporting champions. Take 99-year-old Jean Leemput, a former swimming instructor with the fire brigade. On 16 February 2014 in the town of Nogent-sur- Oise, Mr Leemput set a new world record in the 50 metres backstroke, competing in the 100 to 104-year-old category–Mr Leemput will be 100 in June.

Or take the equally remarkable case of Robert Marchand from Amiens who, just a couple of weeks earlier at the tender age of 102, beat his own hourly indoor cycling record at the national velodrome in Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines on 31 January 2014. 


Mr Marchand covered 26.9 km in an hour, destroying the record he himself had previously set of 24.3 km, in the Masters 100 Plus category, which the Union Cycliste International (UCI) set up especially for the champ from Amiens. The regular world record for the hour-long test is 49.7 km, set by the Czech cyclist, Ondrej Sosenka, in July 2005. Mr Sosenka was just 29 at the time.

©OECD Yearbook 2014

Le Parisien (2014) “Á 102 ans, Robert Marchand bat son record du monde de l’heure”, in Le Parisien, 31 January 2014,  

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