Budapest, the first act of the renaissance of French swimming

Budapest, the first act of the renaissance of French swimming

A wave of freshness. And a balance sheet beyond expectations. In the basin of the Duna Arena in Budapest, from June 18 to 25, the reconstruction operation of French swimming got off to a perfect start during the Worlds, from June 18 to 25. With seven finalist places and eight medals, all individual, the French team has one of the best results in its history in Hungary – far from the two meager podiums (including one in the relay) in Gwangju in 2019 and Budapest in 2017. .

In the absence of the Russians and certain headliners – Caeleb Dressel package from Wednesday June 22, Ariarne Titmus, Duncan Scott or even Emma McKeon- the Blues were able to meet expectations for some, create surprise for others. “Beyond the medals, these Worlds have gone very well in terms of the number of finals and personal bests. We are particularly attentive to this last point”, appreciates Jacco Verhaeren, director of the French racing and open water swimming teams since September 2021.

Announced as one of the swimmers to follow, Léon Marchand assumed his status by becoming double world champion in the 200 and 400 meter medleys then vice-world champion in the 200 meter butterfly. The young prodigy (20 years old) was even elected best swimmer of the competition by the International Federation, Katie Ledecky winning this honor in women. There is worse company for Marchand… Satisfaction also for Marie Wattel, who, nearly a decade after her debut in the France team, finally won her first individual world medal, in the 100 butterfly meters. Another pillar of the Blues, Mélanie Hénique won silver in the 50-meter butterfly, eleven years after the world bronze in Shanghai.

Mélanie Hénique, silver medalist in the 50m butterfly, on June 24, 2022, in Budapest.  (ATTILA KISBENEDEK / AFP)

Maxime Grousset has meanwhile proven that his 4th place in the 100 freestyle mothers in Tokyo did not come from chance. Silver on this event and tanned on the lower distance, he became aware of his level and noted the margin to be filled to climb on the highest step of the podium. The nice surprise came from Analia Pigrée. At 20, the Guyanese bravely played her luck and won bronze in the 50-meter backstroke.

Recently arrived at the head of the French racing and open water swimming teams, Jacco Verhaeren refuses to claim the laurels of the good performances in Hungary. The Dutchman salutes the work undertaken for several years by the coaches and his predecessors at the French Swimming Federation to recreate a competitive French team.

“The other reason for satisfaction that I note is the support that the swimmers, the coaches, all the members of the team have given each other”, underlines the director of the Blues. A positive atmosphere visible in the smiles of swimmers in interviews and on social networks, far from the bad atmosphere felt in Rio and Tokyo.

The French team reacts to Léon Marchand's victory in the 400m medley on June 18, 2022, in Budapest.  (KEMPINAIRE STEPHANE / KMSP)

To recreate a collective, the technician made communication one of his first projects. In a country where rivalry between clubs is cultural, Jacco Verhaeren aims for “coaches exchange and rub shoulders more to learn from each other”. The Dutchman also wants swimmers to share more moments together.

On the program: meetings, shared activities, a ten-day training course in Canet-en-Roussillon before taking the plane to Budapest. The two captains, Mélanie Hénique and Florent Manaudou, also took their role to heart to offer integration rituals to newcomers. In order to generate even more emulation, Jacco Verhaeren is already planning to organize new training camps after the European Championships in Rome in August.

To shine in two years in Paris, the Blues will now have to confirm and continue to raise their level. “It’s a good step to project ourselves towards Paris. It’s easier to start with good results. But at the Worlds in Fukuoka (Japan), in 2023, we will have to be even better”, insists Jacco Verhaeren. The path will pass through the European Championships, in Rome, from August 11 to 21. A new chance for those who stumbled in the series or semi-finals. “Some swimmers lacked experience. It’s different to swim a final in France and heats or semi-finals at the Worlds.” Second European nation behind Italy in the medal table, France can legitimately claim to monopolize the podiums in Rome.

An unknown remains, that of the relays. While France traditionally shone in these events, it almost deserted them in Budapest. “We have very good crawlers, but we don’t have enough to form a competitive relay. French swimming does not have a sufficient pool”, analyzes Jacco Verhaeren. For the technician, the observation is clear: in addition to attention to today’s talents, to dream of a golden future, it will also be necessary to generate more density in the French basins.

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