EuroBasket Women 2011
|A fighter and a natural-born athlete, Emilie Gomis could have excelled in Track and Field if she chose to, but basketball is her life|
Raising his ever-expanding family, Alfred Gomis travelled from his home in Senegal to France without realising the huge implications his journey would bring.
He was a talented karate fighter, a black belt, with ambitions to teach others and to see the world.
He returned to Ziguinchor with an intriguing offer that promised a new life for his then three-year-old daughter.
"He'd been offered the opportunity to come back to France and live," recalls Émilie.
"It was very difficult to get a green card then. I have four sisters and four brothers and it's difficult when you have a big family to remain together."
Packing up, they moved to Evreux, united in hope. 25 years later, they still are.
Wherever Émilie travels, whether on national team duty for France or playing for her clubs, there is a constant reminder of La Famille Gomis and of the dreams they share.
Inscribed across the wrists of the 1.80m guard are the names of her twin sisters, Jeilta and Zesira, tattooed in black ink.
Growing up, the trio would share everything, clothes included. They looked like triplets, she says.
"They were in pink. I was in green. But we were always together. And now when I go away to camp, I miss them a lot. They are in my heart."
Behind their house was a basketball court. At the age of 7, Gomis picked up a ball for the first time and would not let it go.
At school, she would come ready to play, rushing to the park to take on the local boys whenever classes ended.
Her sisters came too. They all played. But Émilie had a different take.
A track and field athlete as well until she was 14, she had a competitive drive that set her apart, then and now.
"They have a life like anybody," she confirms.
"One has two babies. They have a good life, very relaxed. They say to me: ‘That competition must be such a stress. Two months for preparation. It's so hard to keep your place.' They don't get that."
She does. Last year, Gomis missed the FIBA World Championship with a knee injury, sidelined for six months.
It was a blow for the French. After winning EuroBasket Women 2009, they had high hopes.
With one of their stars missing, they exited to Spain at the quarter-final stage.
|Gomis, a member of the France side that triumphed in Latvia in 2009, says the EuroBasket Women title defence can become a complicated affair in a tournament full of surprises |
Gomis felt the pain of the defeat. Worse was being unable to savour the simple joy of throwing a ball through a hoop.
"I felt that my life was nothing without basketball," she reveals.
"I need it. I need to play against the best players in the world. That's what makes me happy.
"I felt angry when my team-mates were playing against the USA. They knew it would be difficult. For me, it was amazing. Even to play 5 or 10 minutes against this team, that's the reason why I wake up every day and go to practice. Basketball is not just a sport for me. C'est la vie."
Les Bleues are not just her team-mates. They are a second family.
In Katowice, they had to bond together in adversity, escaping elimination with a victory over Poland in their final game of the second round group. After sharing disappointment, they earned the elation.
"We share a lot," she states.
"I think that's where our power comes from. We need to play together. And it's our team. We win together, every player. We all understand that."
Now the French face Lithuania in Thursday's quarter-final at the Lodz Arena, clinging to the hope that they can defend their title and secure their ticket to next year's Olympics.
It is a changed team from two years ago in Latvia. Behind them, the country's brilliant young generation has begun to emerge. There are huge hopes for the future. The present group is still fighting to prove its worth.
It will not be easy, Gomis states. This has been a tournament of surprises.
"Look at Spain," she says.
"Did you think Spain wouldn't be at the quarters? And Belarus too? Look at Croatia. It's amazing. What a surprise. Look at Montenegro. They've not lost. This is a new EuroBasket. It's not like two years ago when we came like we could win every game.
"We are not the same team . Every day, it's hard. Imagine if when you play against Croatia, everyone knew you'd win. Why would you bother playing then? This is what competition is about. I like it."
A fighter, just like Papa.