Ace! Champion! Master! Conqueror! Magician! Magnificent melker! All these superlatives, and many more, have been hurled at one man over the past two seasons. The man who has won seven 1st Belgian Nationals in the space of 12 months. Never before in the long history of our sport, has one loft so dominated the Belgian Nationals in such a short period of time. It all started with 1st Semi National Argenton on 10 July 2004. Then the awe inspiring run began; three 1st Nationals in a row, 1st La Souterraine 28 August 2004, 1st Vichy & 1st National Hens 11 September 2004, 1st Bourges, 1st Yearling & 1st National Hens 28 May 2005 and then 1st Bourges (2) 30 July 2005!
Unbelievable! Impossible! The rumours began…“It could not be done naturally!” But after each National the Belgian Federation control tested the Vanlint pigeons and gave them a clean bill of health. No cortisone. No steroids. No dope! No banned substances in their blood. So outstanding were his results, his pigeons were tested seven times. And seven times the results were negative. Case closed! The rumours subsided, but the accolades continued. When I visited Michel I asked him what his secret was, and he said, “Tom the only secret weapon I have is my wife Yu-Chin. She loves the pigeons, spends a lot of time with them, speaks Chinese to them, and they love her as much as I do.”
Every sport has its ‘superstars’, whether it be Tiger Woods in golf; Barry Bonds in baseball; Michael Schumacher in auto racing; Roger Federer in tennis; or David Beckham in soccer. Michel Vanlint is now among them, he has attained super stardom in our beloved sport in a mere three years.
What makes this story even more amazing is that Michel lived in Taiwan for 20 years, as a ‘pigeon agent’, prior to his return home to Belgium in late December 2002. He then set about finding a home with an ideal location for racing. He decided on a little known village in Brabant called Zoutleeuw. The naysayers warned that it was very difficult to have good performances in that area, which is part of the Obrafo Union of Tienenin. In fact, fliers in that area rarely did well in the Nationals or the Brabantse Union Provincial races. But Michel had other ideas!
Michel looked on the internet to find a home. One of the houses for sale, that he and his wife visited, was at 33 Bogaerdenstraat, Zoutleeuw. His wife Yu-Chin went inside, but he went to the backyard. He climbed the stairs to the top of the large flat roofed garage, high and dry. It faced east south east, perfect. No towering buildings around, just the church steeple in the distance. Michel’s mind immediately thought of the best loft he had ever seen, the L-shaped loft of the incomparable Huyskens-Van Reil of Ekeren-Donk, and how it would look on that rooftop. Joy spread over his face as he envisioned his dream loft on that rooftop, a modern version of Jef Van Reil’s wonderful loft.
He climbed down, meeting his wife at the front of the house. “It’s a very nice house,” she said. “We’ll buy it,” replied Michel. “But you haven’t seen inside.” “I don’t need to see inside, it has everything I need outside.” And so the Vanlints bought the house in Zoutleeuw.
Before the ink was dry on the contract, Michel contacted the well known loft builder Herman Van Ostaeyen for a construction date. He had already designed his new ‘Van Reil’ loft, which had been in his brain for years, and had sent the plan to Herman before leaving Taiwan. It had to have a perfect environment, no drafts, perfect aeration, and no temperature variation between day and night. A good dry loft, created through proper insulation, a little heating when necessary, and proper aeration. One of his main prerequisites was that the loft be built of old wood, that was not newly manufactured and had no smell. Michel has a lot of experience in our sport, 50 years worth! As far back as 1971, when I first made his acquaintance, he was classed 7th National Champion Long Distance of Belgium KBDB, beating such legends as Pol Bostyn and M Delbar. So when it is said he rose to the top in three years, in truth, he had honed his skills for 50 years before that. He knows that the first step on the ladder to success is the loft. As he says, “The loft must provide a comfortable atmosphere for the birds, which is conducive to their health and condition.” Within a few weeks, ‘Blue Heaven Loft’, as Michel calls it, was completed.
Although Michel had lived in Taiwan for 20 years he made yearly visits to his homeland and kept in close contact with his continental friends. So when the ‘lost son’ returned to Belgium for good he went to his friends for birds, and of course his friends are highly successful fliers. From Holland came 50 2003 young birds off the dutch champion William De Bruijn of Reewijk. From Belgium came 24 young birds from Filip Herbots, of the world famous Herbots Bros. Eighteen from the well known champion De Keyser of Erps-Kwerpes, and from the long distance champion Willy Oliviers-Devos of Kumtich came 15 youngsters. There were also a few auction purchases and some birds off his old family from Maurice Vandevelde. Michel knew he had the best pigeons obtainable to start with. He settled these 2003 youngsters in his new loft and was in business. Now it was all up to him and his knowledge of racing.
He is a perfectionist and has a precise system he has created over the years using his knowledge and that of his successful friends such as William De Bruijn and Raf Herbots. He has been able to put them into effect when he managed lofts in Taiwan and now in his own loft in Belgium. He says it has saved him a lot of time, a lot of trial and error has been eliminated, because of the advice and experiences which De Bruijn and Herbots have imparted to him. And he credits the late, great champion Jan Grondelaers of Opglabeek with teaching him a lot, giving him the courage to go ‘out of the box’ and try new techniques. But we will go into more details of Vanlint’s methods in Part 2 of this article.
Michel used all this knowledge preparing his 2003 youngsters for his return to the Provincial and National races. Again there were doubters who said he had flown his young birds too hard and they would not be successful as yearlings. But Michel had other ideas. The young birds were thoroughly road trained and scored out of turn in all kinds of weather, week after week. In the Obrafo Union they won 1st prize at each racepoint. A feat never before accomplished.
In 2003 the Vanlint loft, flying in its first year back in competition, was the only loft in all Belgium to score in the first hundred positions in all four young birds Nationals:
15th & 80th National Bourges 45,684 birds
44th National Argenton 17,129 birds
56th & 66th National La Souterraine 14,021 birds
13th, 15th & 58th National Vichy 11,448 birds.
Outstanding! With a team of 64 young birds the Blue Heaven racers accomplished the following:
• Bourges, Club 417 birds, 1st, 4th, 6th, 11th, 14th etc, Obrafo 1,337 birds, 1st, 5th, 10th, 22nd, 25th etc, Groupement 1,414 birds, 1st, 6th, 13th, 33rd, 37th etc, Provincial 5,492 birds, 5th, 16th, 42nd, 100th, 108th etc, CFW 10,228 birds, 5th, 35th, 85th, 182nd, 195th etc, National 45,684 birds, 15th, 80th, 217th, 506th etc.
• Toury, Club 138 birds, 1st, 2nd, 7th, 9th, 10th, Obrafo 503 birds, 1st, 2nd, 11th, 17th, 19th, Brabant-Est 661 birds, 1st, 2nd, 8th, 11th, 12th, 25th, Obrafo Zone 2 722 birds, 1st, 2nd, 13th, 19th, 21st, Interprovisional 1,984 birds, 1st, 2nd, 20th, 29th, 31st.
• Argenton, Club 105 birds, 1st, 5th, 9th, 13th, 16th, Obrafo-Est 175 birds, 1st, 8th, 12th, 14th, 18th, Obrafo 427 birds, 1st, 32nd, 41st, 52nd, 63rd, Groupement 629 birds, 1st, 16th, 30th, 56th, 63rd, Provincial 1,631 birds, 4th, 158th, 186th, 260th, 287th, National Zone C 4,723 birds, 2nd, 241st, 308th, 490th, 552nd, National 17,129 birds, 44th, 1,726th, 2,110th.
• Sens, Club 126 birds, 1st, 2nd, 8th, 9th, Obrafo-Est 296 birds, 2nd, 3rd, 12th, 13th, Obrafo Zone 1 514 birds, 5th, 6th, 18th, 19th, Obrafo Zone 2 551 birds, 8th, 9th, 25th, 26th.
• La Souterraine, Obrafo-Est 130 birds, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, Obrafo 306 birds, 1st, 3rd, 6th, 9th, 10th, 12th, Provincial 1,335 birds, 9th, 13th, 27th, 33rd, 42nd, Brabantse Unie 1,433 birds, 10th, 15th, 29th, 35th, 45th, CFW 4,003 birds, 16th, 26th, 45th, 51st, National 14,021 birds, 56th, 66th.
• Vichy, Club 116 birds, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, Obrafo 259 birds, 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 10th, Groupement 561 birds, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 9th, Provincial 1,099 birds, 4th, 5th, 10th, 22nd, CFW 2,980 birds, 5th, 6th, 16th, 42nd, National 11,448 birds, 13th, 15th, 58th, 124th etc, National Zone C 3,425 birds, 8th, 9th, 20th etc.
Michel was the talk of Belgium after the 2003 season. The ‘lost son’ had returned in triumph. In total his loft won 16x1sts, eight times 1st & 2nd, and 78 prizes in the first ten positions. Many had thought it would be an inauspicious return to competition for Michel because he had been away from the Belgian scene for 20 years. They soon learned that he not only was ‘in the loop’, but he had also been practising his ‘craft’ at a highly professional level in Taiwan, where he managed a top racing loft. Now the ‘lost son’ had returned with a ‘bang’. His young birds had flown the whole season, race after race, giving no quarter, reserving none for the next season‘s wars. Again the critics whispered that worn out youngsters could not, and would not, perform well as yearlings. Again Michel had ‘other ideas’ on the matter.
He cares for his birds as methodically in the off-season as he does in the racing season. He moved the best racers to the breeding loft and started 2004 with only eight breeding pairs, but he also bred an early round off his yearling race team. And he received more youngsters from his friends. Thirty from De Bruijn and 14 from Herbots. As the old bird racing season approached Michel had an experienced team of 36 yearlings, 18 cocks and 18 hens, and about a 100 youngsters to race.After thorough road training the first short race approached and the team looked fit, yet not in full form yet. It was too early in the season for that. Michel uses these shorter races to get his team prepared for the big National flights, but he aims to win every race he enters. The Vanlint pigeons did not let their master down. The prizes fell like rainfall, 10x1sts, 6x2nds, 5x3rds in club racing up to July 10 the Argenton Semi National 335 miles 6,986 birds the Vanlint ‘made the heavens smile’ scoring 1st, 7th, 9th, 11th, 18th National, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 8th, 11th etc Regional 641 birds, 1st, 4th, 5th, 6th, 8th etc Groupement 1,310 birds, 1st, 4th, 5th, 8th, 11th, 18th, 28th, 49th, 68th Provincial 3,159 birds.
Michel’s first National win with a handsome yearling cock named ‘Amos’ 03NL1141088, one of previous year’s youngsters bred by his friend Willem De Bruijn. Would there be more National success? Could there be more? It was the middle of the season and many thought the Vanlint pigeons had peaked too early, but the prizes continued to rain down. The 2004 season continued, another 5x1sts won, plus top National positions also with yearlings and youngsters.
Then in the last two Nationals of the 2004 season the Vanlint pigeons shocked the Belgian sport. On August 28 at La Souterraine 357 miles the sky again rained pigeons at the Vanlint loft, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 6th, 8th, 10th, 11th, 18th, 21st Regional 351 OBs; 1st, 2nd, 5th, 16th, 21st, 26th, 29th Provincial 1,361 OBs; 1st, 4th, 8th, 36th, 52nd, 73rd, 81st National 3,096 OBs. Two weeks later on September 11, the last National at Vichy 333 miles, the heavens really opened, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 7th, 11th, 12th Provincial 273 birds; 1st, 2nd National Hens; 1st, 2nd, 9th, 26th, 45th, 46th, 47th National 2,460 OBs with two yearling hens ‘Anita’ 03NL114112 bred by Willem De Bruijn, and ‘Amanda’ 03 Belg 2107865 bred Oliviers-Devos of Kumtich . The young birds scored well at Vichy, 2nd, 3rd, 6th, 11th, 13th, 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th, 19th, 20th, 21st, 22nd, 23rd Regional, 12th, 30th, 71st National Vichy 11,296 young birds. Amazing! Michel won two Nationals in two weeks. He was elated, yet not totally surprised. This is what is expected in every race. His impeccable preparation gives him that kind of confidence. Never say “Never”.
The 2005 season was on the horizon, again some of the best racers were moved to the stock loft. In the Regional races they showed their mounting form with 18x1sts, 22x2nds, 8x3rds. Then the first Belgian National of the year on May 28, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 10th Obrafo 456 yearlings; 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 9th, 11th Zone Oost 250 yearlings; 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 10th Obrafo 228 hens; 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 10th Zone Oost 144 hens; 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 13th Provincial 2,672 yearlings; 1st, 4th, 6th, 9th, 10th, 31st National Bourges 289 miles 21,796 yearlings. Won by a lovely blue chequer named ‘Bea’ 04 Belg 2105478 bred by Michel. Simply fantastic. At Bourges Michel also scored with the old birds, 1st, 5th, 11th, 21st Zone Oost 405 OBs, 3rd, 8th, 18th Obrafo 706 OBs. The season continued at club level with a further 19x1sts with old birds, hens and yearlings.
Bourges (2) was the next National on the calendar, July 30. All eyes looked to Zoutleeuw, could the Vanlint team do it again? Impossible? But nothing is impossible for a superstar, 1st, 8th, 14th De Hoop Rummen 196 OBs; 1st, 9th, 16th Obrafo Zone Oost 144 OBs; 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 8th, 14th, 16th De Hoop Rummen 159 yearlings; 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 8th, 13th Obrafo Zone Oost 242 yearlings; 1st, 25th De Hoop Rummen 329 YBs; 1st, 29th Obrafo Zone Oost 391 YBs; 47th National 9,896 OBs, 8th, 25th, 40th, 83rd, 100th National 12,766 yearlings, and to top it off 1st National 32,724 YBs! Yes, the Vanlints had done it again! And with another outstanding hen ‘Barbara‘ 05 Belg 2190504 bred by Michel. The super season continued with a further 7x1sts being won at all levels.
Then the last race of the season the Vichy National 333 miles, for old birds and young birds on September 10: Groupement 349 old birds, 1st, 4th, 5th, 10th, 14th, 17th, 19th, 21st, 23rd etc, Brab Unie (Prov) 301 old birds, 3rd, 6th, 8th, 17th, 23rd, 25th, 29th, 30th, 33rd etc, Groupement 640 youngsters, 14th, 15th, 17th, 35th, 42nd, 64th, 65th, 77th etc, Brab Unie (Prov) 1,188 youngsters, 63rd, 65th, 71st, 111th, 127th, 167th, 170th etc, National 2,453 old birds, 3rd, 27th, 28th etc. The Vanlint racers had once again shown their form. The 2005 racing season ended, but there was no rest for the Vanlints. I should not even mention the word ‘rest’, because the pigeons management is truly a ‘labour of love’ for Michel. Preparations have already begun for the 2006 season, and Michel feels that if he can keep his birds healthy, there is no reason why they cannot achieve even greater laurels this season.
Michel Vanlint is a perfectionist by personality and this trait is one of the reasons for his success. He views pigeon racing as a sport which requires total dedication to attain championship results. And beyond that, it requires a precise system of management with various checks and balances to sustain those championship performances. In Part 2 we delve into those methods that have made him a ‘superstar’ of our sport.