And if Florent Manaudou held his click? In poor shape after the 2021 Olympics that marked his return to the top of Olympus, the French swimmer went to remake the cherry, at the end of April, at the Belgian championships (victory in the 50m freestyle in 21''98). A time to be confirmed this weekend: the sprinter dives back to Canet-en-Roussillon hoping to swim faster, and better. Between the two, Florent Manaudou gave himself to 20 Minutes at the turn of a media operation for his sponsor Arena. Where it is about the rise to Paris 2024, his reunion with his coach of always and the mental health of the athlete.

How did you end up competing in the Belgian championships?

I was supposed to swim in Marseille, Nice and Saint-Germain-en-Laye at the end of February but I got sick. I had the flu. So I looked for a competition not too far to gauge myself. We found this competition. The national championships are often open: on the France championships we also have foreigners.

Are you satisfied with what you were able to produce there?

This is the first race since my return in 2019 where I felt I was in control of things as before, even if it is not perfect yet. On my best times, I know that in terms of efficiency, I'm going to be at 34 or 35 arm strokes. If I do 38 movements, it's because I'm not taking enough water. In Belgium, I was very efficient. And in terms of m/s, speed, I stayed stable throughout the 50m and that's what I like. I'd rather do 21s98 like that than 21s70 badly done.

There is a paradox in your speech in the sense that you are on the one hand perfectly attuned to your sensations, and on the other, you are addicted to data. What does this data bring you?

First, you have to know how to take them into account, use them correctly, but not fall too much into them. Data is data, but you have to have a feeling. There can be a discrepancy between the feeling and what the data or video shows us. But yes, I've always loved data, I've always liked to compare myself to what I did before, which is not necessarily good... I'm ten years older than I was ten years ago (he smiles). So you have to be careful not to get lost in the data. But there are important markers.

For example, I have a ring that tracks my sleep. I have my data since October and I know what time I should go to bed ideally to be the best possible. I learned that I needed to eat a little earlier so that my body could digest earlier and I could sleep earlier. I used to eat at 21pm and go to bed at 22.30pm, now I can't. But you also have to know how to pick up. There are times when, if I have dinner with friends, I will eat at 21pm without problem.

Is it a mental load, to stalk each other all the time?

You have to take it cool. It is an indicator and it should not be a truth. It helps me in my performance, but it's not my truth. I've slept five hours in the night and been great, or I slept eight hours and not so good. The idea is above all to understand how my body works in the long term.

You said earlier that you like to swim faster and faster. The goal is to have a linear progression to the Olympics or to be at the top from the 2023 Worlds?

It's okay to swim faster and faster over the course of a season. There, I will do two competitions: one in Canet-en-Roussillon, the other in Barcelona. In my head I tell myself that I will do 21s8 in Canet, 21s7 in Barcelona, 21s5 at the France championships and 21s3 at the world championships. But if it happens, I'll do 22s, 22s2s, then 21s4 and 21s7. But I'd love to swim faster and faster, because it builds confidence. For a year, I didn't work well because I took a semi-sabbatical year in order to arrive fresh at the Games in Paris. The work I've done since September is starting to pay off and I'm starting to rebuild that confidence that I don't want to lose anymore.

This has not always been the case, but with experience, you manage to manage potential moments of dip?

To be honest and no pun intended, I am getting my head out of the water because I had a confidence problem since the end of the 2021 Olympics. Since I hadn't worked much, I didn't swim fast. And when you're not swimming fast, you want to reassure yourself by swimming faster, no matter the level of experience. The sprinter can make an easy shortcut and say: "I have to swim fast, so I will turn my arms fast". But it's the way that brings the performance, not the fact of thinking very hard about a performance that will make it happen. At the Belgian championships, I have problems with patience and was finally patient. I'm starting to rebuild my confidence. It's there, but it's small, because I only had a good performance. But between now and the Olympics it will be much better, because I've been focused since January.

Is that also why you reinstated James Gibson in your staff?

Yes. James brings me serenity in my preparation. It's not necessarily the training he does to me... If a coach had found the recipe to make all swimmers swim fast, it would be known. All coaches do pretty much the same thing in terms of training. But I know that James has already made me swim fast, that James has already made sprinters swim fast, including my fiancée [Pernille Blume], that he has made Chad Le Clos swim fast... When I was just with Yoris Grandjean and Quentin Coton [his other two coaches], we were doing 95% of the same sessions that James sends. But we wondered if it was good to do it when we were doing it, if we should not do more of this, less of that. It was uncertain. We were novices, both them and me Now, the trio with James is hyper balanced. And yet, James, I've only seen him three times since January. I have him four or five times on the phone during the week, he debriefs and exchanges with the coaches.

Gibson says you can't be 100% constant, that you need "certain moments to breathe and be French." What does that mean?

(Laughter) I don't know! He's English, we don't know how we're perceived around the world, but I'm very much like that. I was always told that I was very smart in training. I don't always listen to the coach.

Are you a rebel?

I don't see it that way. When I get a program for the year, the week, or a session, I know where I need to be good. I set myself times when I forbid myself to be bad. Generally, in those moments, I am much better than others in training. But besides that, there are sessions where I'm a little below. I need 120% and 80% moments. The 120% moments are the moments that I think are important, and James understood that very well and so did the other coaches.

That's kind of the secret to your longevity, isn't it? Because we can start talking about longevity, there are not many in the sprint who have had a very long career.

I chose my life. When I quit in 2016, people said, "Oh, he stops while he's swimming super fast." But I don't care. I stop because I don't feel like swimming anymore. I don't swim for others, even though sport is a spectacle and we give pleasure to people I read an interview with Max Verstappen where he says he may stop in 2028 because he's not here to break records. It's great. The guy does what he wants, it's his life. When you become famous through sport, you belong to the people. And people want to decide our own careers. But if I want to do something else, I do something else. You get judged as a public figure, but that doesn't stop me from making my way. It hasn't worked out too badly for me so far.

We feel that there is still a rather unprecedented benevolence around the well-being and mental health of very high-level athletes, right?

We talk about it a lot more. We realize that the outcome matters very little in mental health. Simone Biles, multiple Olympic champion, Michael Phelps, Caeleb Dressel... Only multiple Olympic medalists. Guys who you could say are happy because they've gotten what they've been training for all their lives. But the reality is that the result does not make you happy. Obviously, at the moment, it's a thing of phew, but when, two weeks later, you have to dive back, mental health comes into play. There are not many jobs where you are confronted with the best in the world and where, once you have been first, you can not do better. If you make 4th after being first, we will say that you have regressed.

Is it, concerning most of the athletes you mentioned and in which you can be included, is there also this fatality of the precocious champion? You started by winning the Olympics, so literally by the best in sport.

When you win, you get used to it, and so do the others. You reach a level that no longer allows progression. On the other hand, if you were 2nd the next time, you were less good. So you'll train all your life to be less good. To take a very recent example, people were very disappointed to lose the World Cup final to Argentina. The guys are still in the final. They are 2nd. And we are sad because they won last time. We relax, guys. How many didn't even make it to the final? We must not believe that because we have won once, we will win all our lives. It doesn't work that way. And according to this mode of reasoning, 4th is a bad result. But that's wrong! I made 1st out of 7 billion, then 2nd out of 7 billion, etc. It's still not bad (laughs).

Despite this, you have found meaning in everything you do on a daily basis in the pool?

I walk to pleasure. There I am very good at the moment, but if tomorrow I am bad, I stop. It won't, because I'm super good. But that's what happened in 2016: I had great results, but I wanted to do something else, and I stopped. I kind of do what I want.

There is one, which works very well and to whom we already put a lot of pressure, it is Léon Marchand. For the moment he is a little in his bubble, but anticipating the 2024 Olympics, the psychological aspect is something on which you can bring him your experience?

I think he's super good right now. If I see that he is good, I will not go talk to him, put ideas in his head, it would be useless. But if I see that he suffers a little bit from that, yes, obviously. I will talk to him before the Games, because the Games at home are different. Even though I've never experienced it, I know a lot of athletes who have done the Games at home and it's a different approach, so I'll talk to him, but as I will talk to all the other members of the France team.

Will you be in captain mode in the dressing room?

Yes! After that, that's my role. I was educated by the oldest of other generations, and I try to add my paw and try to explain what I understood from high-level sport. But everyone has their story and lives their career as they see fit.

  • Sport
  • Florent Manaudou
  • Swimming
  • Paris 2024 Olympics