Crossing the finish line in record time, graduate student Bérénice Cleyet-Merle cemented her name in the French national record books with the fastest time for the mile. On Feb. 11, Cleyet-Merle broke the French mile record along with the Indoor Division II record in Boston. Cleyet-Merle recorded a time of 4:31.99, which solidified her national achievement in France. Laying it all out on the track, she said that she did not believe she broke the record until she saw her exact time.
“My coach came to me and was like, ‘Oh, you did it,’ so that’s when I realized I wanted to know my exact time,” Cleyet-Merle said. “It was a relief because I was so stressed a week before, I couldn’t sleep.”
Cleyet-Merle took her talents to Boston where she raced against top Division I athletes and Olympic runners. Track and Field Assistant Head Coach Brad Robinson said Boston has one of the fastest tracks in the country where top runners get an opportunity to showcase their talents. Cleyet-Merle took this opportunity to write her name atop the mile record in French track and field history.
“The woman who won the race just competed in the Olympics this past year in Tokyo,” Robinson said. “She [the woman] just missed the finals in the Olympics.”
Cleyet-Merle finished ninth in the race, however, she still had an incredible time resulting in an indoor Division II record and ultimately the French national record. Cleyet-Merle said one of the main reasons for heading to Boston was to shatter records; a national record was not in her sights.
“I wanted to break the collegiate record, the DII record first … and if I broke the French record it would be like the cherry on top,” Cleyet-Merle said.
Additionally, she said she experienced nerves like everyone else, causing her to be waiting in anticipation for the race. Cleyet-Merle said the race was always at the forefront of her thoughts, driving her towards success.
“When the gun goes off, she is able to clear her mind and just go,” Robinson said. “She doesn’t let other distractions, other thoughts come in; [she] trust[s] her instincts from a mental standpoint and allows herself to do what she does best.”
The Saint-Sulpice-Des-Rivoires, France native added these records on top of ones she had already achieved. With various achievements in DII and University of Indianapolis record books, Cleyet-Merle is no stranger to writing her name in the books in a variety of running events at UIndy. According to UIndy Athletics, Cleyet-Merle already holds records as a part of the distance medley relay (DMR), in the the 800 and in the 3K. Robinson said there is a plethora of attributes that makes Cleyet-Merle the runner she is.
“I think for her physically, she’s incredibly efficient with her form, which allows her to operate at a very high level,” Robinson said. “But more than that from the physicality, she’s dialed in her racing ability so well, with the level of competition she’s been able to experience at this point in her life, she is very good at attacking, particularly the last half of the race and putting herself in position to win.”
Surprisingly, Cleyet-Merle said she did not truly kickstart her running career in France until high school. At the time, she participated in cross country skiing and Nordic skiing. Initially, she did not enjoy the idea of running.
“We had a race for our school every year [and] I was always winning this, so my dad was like ‘Alright you need to give it a shot,’” Cleyet-Merle said.
After blooming late in her track career, Cleyet-Merle now finds herself focusing on the Track and Field National Championship at Pittsburg State University in Kansas. Robinson said she is planning on running the mile along with the DMR on March 11 and 12. In the future, Cleyet-Merle stated that she is looking to leave her mark on an even bigger stage by working towards the World Championships. This historic event is to be played in the United States and potentially in Oregon, Robinson said.
“[We are] trying to get her to the point where she hits the time standard to be on the list to go,” Robinson said. “Then hopefully proving herself to the French Federation to be selected and sent to the World Championships,”
Although Cleyet-Merle said she is currently focusing on the national and world championships, she is continuing to progress towards her dream of competing in the Olympics. Robinson said Cleyet-Merle’s potential professional abilities have impacted the program now and possibly in the future in terms of recruiting.
“We haven’t had too many international athletes before Bérénice, [she has] really been the tipping point of getting it all started for us from an international level,” Robinson said. “School records are one thing, we’ve had those and those are awesome to see … but to see somebody not only break their school record, but to break the DII national record and then on top of that, the French national record definitely took it to another level.”