Making a move in to band management after having been a top hurdler sounds like quite the departure. But for Monique Ewanjé-Epée, French 60m and 100m hurdle national record holder, it was as natural a move as they come.
Monique Ewanjé-Epée never really saw much distinction between music from sport. Before becoming 1985 European junior champ in the 100m hurdles, where she set a European junior record in the process, she wrote an essay about the parallels between dance and hurdles.
“I was listening to music even during jogging or my toughest track workouts,” she says.
“I wrote that it’s all about music, rhythm, body awareness, technique, lightness, punch. But I’ve struggled my entire career to do both, because I was too tight for dancing and too flexible for hurdling!”
As a young student living in Montpellier, in southern France, most of Ewanjé-Epée’s schedule was taken up with dance, leading courses in jazz dancing, and of course studying. It put the squeeze on how much time she could devote to training for hurdles.
She almost gave up athletics in 1986 when her coach Dominique Biau retired. But the national athletics governing body proposed a solution.
“The French federation then proposed for me to train under the national coach Fernand Urtebise. So I stayed one week in Paris and one week in Montpellier, and I went from two or three workouts a week to two workouts a day.”
Ewanjé-Epée considered walking away from athletics, but her former coach changed her mind
After about 3 months, she realised that she couldn’t sustain this way of life. “I had always considered track as a pleasure, I’m an Epicurean and I needed to do other things,” she says.
Ewanjé-Epée was considering walking away from the track, but one workout with her former youth training camp coach Jacques Piasenta “was enough to light my flame again!”.
She established herself in Paris and the lighter schedule – five workouts a week – gave her some more spare time. Rather than use it for rest and recuperation, like many athletes would, she used it to secretly go to dance courses.
But her failure to qualify for the 1987 World Championships was a rough reality check. “I cried my heart out and finally decided I would put myself on the safe side,” she concedes.
She quit dance and got a part-time job at the town hall in Creteil, a Parisian suburb. Renewed focus began to pay dividends. At the 1988 Olympics she achieved seventh place. She claimed the 1990 European title in the 100m hurdles, and silver medals in 60m hurdles at the 1990 Euro indoors, the 1991 world indoors and again at the 1992 Euro indoors.
On a roll – Ewanjé-Epée won several European and global medals
Over that successful period she set a string of personal bests – her 7.82 60mh in 1991 and 12.56 100mh in 1990 still stand as French national records.
Her 1992 outdoor season was plagued by injuries, and she finished 7th in her heat at that year’s Barcelona Olympics. Ewanjé-Epée moved back to south of France to have a baby with her husband, French pole vaulter Christophe Tourret.
That could have been that, but by chance, it conspired that she and her very first coach Dominique Biau both wanted one more crack at the track. The comeback materialised in bronze at the 1996 European indoors and qualification for her third Olympic Games, where she reached the quarter-finals.
After giving birth to her second child in 1997, Ewanjé-Epée went back to her first love. She resumed dancing, started singing in a choir, met various artists and finally decided to set up her own management company, which remains her profession today.
“I see myself as an artist developer, trying to make them grow, just like Dominique Biau and Jacques Piasenta were tutors to their athletes,” she says.
“Tour dates, copyrights, event communication, relationship with record companies; my job is to take care of all those things so that the artists only have to think about their art.
“It’s very similar to being a sport coach – except that I don’t step into the scene and I deal with artists!”
Though she briefly worked as a track coach, assisting Dominique Biau, she quickly discovered it was not her thing, and has instead gone down the musical path that she never really abandoned.
At the 1990 European champs Ewanjé-Epée won her first senior gold
In 2013, Ewanjé-Epée created the Bureau de Mô, which works with bands that span all sorts of genres, from gospel to rap music, from voodoo blues to pop-folk. She has grand plans, and is currently running a crowdfunding campaign to grow the operation in to an artist’s cooperative.
Fortunately for those who work with her now, she has embraced a softer approach to the one she took when coaching athletics.
“When I was an athlete, I used to give 300%, so I was asking the same to everybody on the track and I was odious,” she admits. “But I had a crush on music and I thought I could be useful and pass my experience.
“You can’t rush artists; each of them have their own rhythm, so I had to learn to put some water in the wine!”
You can support Monique's Bureau de Mô crowdfunding campaign here.
Photography: Jean Pierre Durand