Paris 2024: for Fatima Charkaoui, the Olympic flame will burn all summer

When Fatima Charkaoui received a phone call in January asking her to carry the Olympic flame on July 26, a few hours before the opening of the Games, she initially declined the invitation

Paris 2024: for Fatima Charkaoui, the Olympic flame will burn all summer

When Fatima Charkaoui received a phone call in January asking her to carry the Olympic flame on July 26, a few hours before the opening of the Games, she initially declined the invitation. “There were rumors that my name had been put forward, but I didn’t believe it,” she says. Then I was called to ask if I was available to carry the flame. I had made association commitments for this period, so I answered no. My interlocutor said to me: “But are you sure? It’s about carrying the Olympic flame, you know?” Several days passed and then I really became aware of what it meant. I called back and said I was available. »

For the cross-country champion, being one of the last to carry the flame before the opening of the Games, moreover in her department of Seine-Saine-Denis, constitutes tremendous recognition of a life journey that has led to an entire athletic career under the colors of the PIerrefitte-sur-Seine Sports Association (AS Pierrefitte) and to becoming professionally involved with the young people of his town.

“Carrying the flame is a great source of pride,” she confides. It is a strong symbol that conveys a message of peace and friendship between peoples. I think I was selected because the city wanted to reward the investment. It's a gift. For me, it is a step in my career and a sign that I must continue to invest myself in projects for my city and help others. »

Born in Morocco, Fatima Charkaoui arrived in Pierrefitte-sur-Seine at the age of two. The youngest of five children, she grew up in a house in the Joncherolles district, in the south of the city. “My family didn’t often have the opportunity to go on vacation. I spent my holidays in Sarcelles, at the swimming pool, we went to my cousins. It was a vacation for us because we were changing cities. We were happy,” she recalls, with a smile on her face.

At the age of 14, Fatima had an encounter that would change her life: athletics. It was by climbing onto the podium of the Foulées pierrefittoises in her age category, from her first participation, that she was noticed by officials of the local club. “I didn’t know anything about athletics,” she says. They took my contact details and called me several times. That’s how I joined the club. I never left. »

However, it wasn’t love at first sight: “At 14, no one likes running for fifteen minutes, doing laps. I liked competing, but training, no. » Over time, his relationship with sport has changed. Paradoxically, it was the need to commit to regular training that nourished her attachment to athletics: “This sport taught me not to be lazy. If you want to succeed in life, you have to practice. It’s a healthy lifestyle: to achieve your goals you put in place a work plan. That’s what I love about athletics. »

“Locked-up vision of the neighborhood”

Since her first participation in the French cross-country championships in 2005, she has never missed an edition of the national elite meeting and was vice-champion of France in short team cross-country in 2013 and 2014 with her club, then joining the French youth team. On the track, she won the national junior 1,500m title in 2011, but it was in cross country that she achieved her best results. “I’ll keep running for fun until I can’t anymore,” she says.

Looking back, the thirty-year-old realizes the importance of athletics in her career: “At 14, you are lost: doing athletics gave me a framework and a goal. » Sport also allowed him to open up to the world: “I was able to travel, meet new people when I participated in competitions. It allowed me to get out of my locked-in vision of the neighborhood. Without sport, I would not have been able to have this openness to the world, which allowed me to change my way of thinking, to have more tolerance towards others. »

It is because she wants to give back to young Pierrefittois what sport has given her that she has worked as a sports development agent and sports educator since 2016 within AS Pierrefitte, after obtaining her professional certificate in youth, popular education and sport.

At the same time, she is a volunteer within the Fauvettes-Joncherolles Hope Association, which aims to promote the social integration of young people through the implementation of cultural, sporting, educational and academic support activities. Each year, it allows Pierrefittois aged 14 to 18 to go skiing for a week. “It’s a way for me to pass the buck. Today, I am investing in projects that were made for me several years ago,” emphasizes Fatima Charkaoui.

The Olympic flame will pass through Seine-Saint-Denis on July 25 and 26. For the Pierrefittoise, one of whose models is the Moroccan athlete Hicham El Guerrouj, double Olympic champion, over 1,500 and 5,000 m, in Athens in 2004, seeing the Games held in his department is a source of joy. “Like any athlete, I have always dreamed of competing in the Games,” she explains. I'm going to take places. But even without that, walking around the Stade de France when there are competitions this summer will give me pleasure. I'm eager to. »

In her own way, she will participate doubly in the Games: carrying the flame, she also obtained one of the 20,024 bibs for the Marathon pour tous, a general public running event organized by Paris 2024, which will take place in the evening of August 10. The Olympic flame has not finished burning in the heart of Fatima Charkaoui.