How swimming and track cycling raised the bar to prepare for the Paris 2024 Olympics

How swimming and track cycling raised the bar to prepare for the Paris 2024 Olympics

A silver medal for Florent Manaudou (50m freestyle) on one side. Two bronze charms on the other (team speed and the American duo Benjamin Thomas – Donavan Grondin). Swimming and track cycling, once net contributors to French Olympism, had returned with very light suitcases Tokyo Games, Last year. Embarrassing, three years from the Paris Olympics, presented to the top of the state as the ultimate goal of any self-respecting tricolor athlete.

Also, the success of the two disciplines during the current European championships encourages a certain optimism as the unmissable meeting approaches: swimming posted Tuesday evening in Rome, nine medals including three titles. 900 km further north, in Munich, track cycling compiled fifteen charms, six of which were gold.

So yes, we see you coming. These are “only” Euros, a remark that is especially valid on the swimming pool side, where by definition, American and Australian cannibals are absent. Not to mention the Russians, excluded on background invasion of Ukraine. And among the trackers, some tenors have skipped the Bavarian rally which falls two months before the big meeting of the Worlds of Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines (from October 12 to 16) whether among the formidable British, the Italians or Dutch.

An improvement already noted at the Worlds

But finally, these results confirm the improvement observed at the World Championships in Budapest in swimming in June (eight medals) and those in Roubaix last October in track cycling (six medals and a fourth place in the nations ranking). The long-awaited succession is coming of age. “We are a young generation that is pulling itself up, dropped Melvin Landerneau on Monday after his kilometer title, three days after the silver in team speed. We have a fairly young team. With Sebastian [Vigier, médaillé d’or en vitesse individuelle et en keirin], we are 25 years old and we are the two oldest. »

Small correction: crowned for the third time in his career in the points race after gold in the team pursuit, Benjamin Thomas will celebrate his 27th birthday in September. But the Cofidis rider, equally at ease on the road where he almost won the Carcassonne stage during the last Tour de France, will still be in the prime of life in two years in Paris, like her younger sisters Mathilde Gros and Clara Copponi (both 23), respectively silver in Munich in individual speed and omnium. And what about Donavan Grondin (22 years old in September), titled in omnium…

Léon Marchand, 20 years old and already a world star

In the basins, we no longer speak of hope for Léon Marchand, despite his 20 years. The promises sown in Tokyo (6th in the 400m medley final) by the Toulousain exiled in the United States germinated in Budapest during the June Worlds: two titles in the 400m medley and 200m medley, plus the silver in the 200m butterfly earned the protege of Bob Bowman, ex-mentor of Michael Phelps, the title best swimmer of the competitionthe male counterpart of the incredible American Katie Ledecky.

Absent from the Roman Euro (in order to favor his return to university in Arizona), like the “old” Florent Manaudou and Mélanie Henique, Marchand sees shine from a distance Yoann Ndoye Brouard, Maxime Grousset, Analia Pigrée and Marie Wattel, the offspring from “Gavroche 2024”. This plan launched by the FFN in September 2015 aimed to create a better network of the national territory, overseas territories included, to support future talents to the top level and “create a collective of swimmers and coaches who work and build a team spirit together”, as Deputy Director Jean-Lionel Rey explained at the time.

French swimming, which would only win two silver medals a few months later at the Rio Games, had already begun its return to normal after several crazy Olympics, carried by a few exceptional profiles (Laure then Florent Manaudou , Alain Bernard, Yannick Agnel, Camille Muffat…).

“We are in a period of transition, explained during the Tokyo Games in The cross former swimmer Sophie Kamoun. Compare with the London Olympics [7 médailles dont quatre titres] would be a mistake. It was an extraordinary generation that did not reflect the structural level of our delegation. »

Frameworks turned upside down for Paris 2024

Difficult to speak again for the current Habs of “extraordinary generation”, Marchand apart. But the Fed seems determined to get out of the Franco-French quarrels which poisoned relations in and out of the water, by choosing for the first time in 2021 a foreigner finally to supervise Bleus et Bleues: the Dutchman Jacco Verhaeren who led a a certain Pieter van den Hoogenband before leaving to straighten out, successfully, Australian swimming.

“The advantage of coming from outside is that you do not carry the weight of the culture and history of what has been done before, explained the director of the French teams. at Olympics.com, in the month of June. You’re not responsible for everything that worked and didn’t work in the past, and it really allows you to start afresh. »

Jacco Verhaeren, the Dutchman in charge of the French teams, during the Euro swimming competition in Rome, August 15, 2022.
Jacco Verhaeren, the Dutchman in charge of the French teams, during the Euro swimming competition in Rome, August 15, 2022. – Alberto Pizzoli / AFP

Verhaeren was of course named with a view to the sacrosanct Paris Games, like Grégory Baugé in track cycling last March. The Guadeloupean is the new national sprint coach, while his former coach Florian Rousseau became the director of the Olympic program for the French cycling teams in the fall of 2021. These two big names in the discipline refer to the finest hours of the French track, which dominated the world since the end of the 1990s before declining for a good decade.

“France has rested on its laurels and is no longer scary, deplores the seven-time world champion François Pervis, consultant France Télévisions, on FranceInfo. We were content to stay at our level, but over time, the others caught up with us, and even overtook us. “Some nations have turned entirely to technological improvement,” he adds. Look at the British, who work with engineers from Lotus or McLaren, they have incredible budgets. It’s hard to compete with them. »

But the new generation is working on it, and will try to prove it again this fall in Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines. Track racers and swimmers can maintain legitimate hopes for the next Games at home. We would like to write as much about athletics.

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