Leo Heremans does not come from a pigeon fanciers' family. His love for the sport started in a very peculiar way. A pigeon landed on the stairs leading to the terrace of his house. Leo's children, out of compassion for the pigeon, which had a broken leg, persuaded their father to take it home and look after it. It didn't take long for this bird to become a member of the family. After a month of being in the house, Leo's children considered that one pigeon was too little and that they had to get more so that the pigeon would not be alone. That is why Leo went with his sons to the Herentals market in search of new birds.
At that time, Heremans didn't understand birds and didn't know the difference between a blue, a rolling or long or short distance. That's why his first acquisition was a bit of a medley of colours; black, white, red... When they arrived home, they saw that they had no place for the pigeons to live and moved them to the basement. A few weeks later, Pol Huysmans, husband of Marina van de Velde, went to the Heremans' house and heard the pigeons in the cellar. Soon, he offered Leo a couple of birds he had at home and wanted to get rid of. That's how Leo increased the number of pigeons.
Everything was very rudimentary and it was in 1977 that Louis Claes, a neighbour of Leo's and a pigeon fancier, advised Heremans to race his pigeons. He built up his team by shopping at the market in Lier and buying pigeons that Claes advised him on. In 1978, Heremans raced for the first time with 15 young pigeons. Leo had one of his favourites, De Entje. With this one he won 14 prizes and was the offspring of two Huysmans pigeons. With De Entje he was very successful, but the good run came to an end with his next star. The pigeon got lung cancer and died, which made Heremans so sad that he decided to sell almost all his birds. He kept only nine breeding pairs in a small loft no more than 8 metres long.
It was over the years that he found his pigeon of choice for sprint racing, Olimpiade, which in turn is the great-grandmother of another legendary bird, Bolt. Both were bred in the same loft as legendary racers such as Olympic Spenwer, Jan or 444. All these birds are clear examples of the Belgian fanciers' saying that "good pigeons breed good birds". It is all "a matter of pedigree" according to Heremans and, in his words, "there are no more secrets than pure drinking water; that is all a speed pigeon needs if its pedigree is good".
Leo left the sport again, for the second time, in 2006, when valuable pigeons were stolen from his breeding centre. With the help of some young neighbours in the neighbourhood, he managed to intercept other thieves, but the anguish this caused him - he even lost 20 kilos - led him to sell all but two of his birds again. The thefts became the norm in Belgium, the country where the origin of racing pigeons is traced back to the 19th century and where pigeon fanciers numbered some 250,000 after the Second World War.
Certain pigeon thefts by Chinese mafias in 2009 were well publicised in the media. They were only interested in the rings to take them back to their country, put them on much less gifted Chinese birds and sell them as champions. The thefts took place mainly in Antwerp until they were discovered at the Dutch border. Now the story has changed and the same Chinese are buying all the pigeons from Heremans and others from fanciers like Monick Nys. This year he is retiring for good, and will almost certainly sell his entire loft to a Chinese buyer.
The Antwerp region in Belgium has many top lofts, but the Heremans-Ceusters association in the village of Vorselaar is one of the top lineages that performed very well in the last decades. Leo Heremans, who was a diamond fancier, was introduced to the pigeons in 1986 during the Vorselaar festival. Leo was having a few beers with Marcer Mol and they started talking about pigeons, at which point they decided to work together. Marcel Mol died in 1997 due to cancer and Leo needed another person to help him look after the birds. He found Charel Ceusters, a genuine pigeon fancier who was willing to collaborate with him. The basis for the resumption was a few pigeons from his former partner Mol. One of these birds was a granddaughter of the Sony, from the Houben family.
Another very successful pigeon of Heremans was the Goede Witpen, which won 18 first prizes. But Leo and Charel got on the move and went to Maurice Hasendockx's loft, where they were impressed by the quality of his birds and then ordered a full round of all his breeding stock. At the loft of Gert Lanwerigs, Leo found two direct females from Dirk van Dijk's Kanibaal. He could not buy these two pigeons, but they made an agreement to breed together with the best birds Leo owned. Heremans also bought two fantastic females at the auction from Jan Diels of Vorselaar, with which they were very successful.
But one of Leo's most spectacular moves was undoubtedly his visit to Gust Jansen in Beerse. There he wanted to buy the Olympiade bird. On a second visit, Heremans could not sleep a wink because he wanted to own this pigeon. In the end, the deal they made was that one month the bird would be bred with Gust Jansen and the next month with Leo Heremans. At the same time, the achievements of the Heremans-Ceusters partnership started to happen, especially in Quievrain and Noyon. They also competed in the Antwerp league and there their rivals quickly learned who they were. In the province of Antwerp the Heremans-Ceusters lofts were at the top of the championship list every year. Heremans-Ceusters won the Antwerp KBDB provincial race (7,158 members) in several consecutive years: 2001: 1st, 2002: 3rd, 2003: 1st, 2004: 1st, 2005: 1st and 2006: 2nd.
Leo never lost his eye for acquiring good pigeons. Even when he was at the top of the top, he continued to invest in acquiring new birds for his loft. This is the case of Figo, a bird bought at the Patrick and Guido Claes auction. Figo was 1st As Paloma at the Antwerp Union in middle distance in 2004. He was also winner of the 2nd National yearlings at KBDB. Many fanciers bought pigeons in Vorselaar from Heremans-Ceusters and achieved great results. With these birds several palmares were obtained and are still obtained in Belgium, Germany, Holland, Dubai, United Kingdom and Taiwan, among other countries.
In 2013, Leo Heremans sold a series of 530 birds for 4.3 million euros. The online bidding broke all previously existing ceilings, placing four of his pigeons among the five most expensive pigeons in history. Heremans sold his pigeon, Bolt, for the sum of 310,000 euros to a Chinese buyer. He also took a fortune for Safier Koppel (270,000 euros), Nieuwe Olympiade (210,000) and Ouders Bolt (184,000).
Bolt is the latest star in a series of top Olympiade descendants. The pigeon has won the KBDB 1st National AS Pigeon in speed title several years in a row, with the following Quiévrain results: 2/2,707; 3/1,881; 7/2,507; 8/1,701; 12/2,131; 15/1,914; 60/2,838; 76/1,276; 143/1,566; 217/2,183, among others.
Source: PIPA and Winkie