French swimmer Laurent Chardard’s hope of securing a Paralympic medal has not yet fizzled out. Stung to the quick by its disappointing entry into the competition (read the benchmarks), this insatiable competitor has the opportunity to make up for it, this Friday July 3, by diving back into the Olympic basin for the 100 m backstroke.
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When he arrived in Tokyo in late August, the swimmer with his leg and right arm amputated expressed his “intense pleasure ” to be part of the adventure. He did not want to lose a crumb of this first experience at the Paralympic Games: “It’s not for everyone to participate in such a competition. I’m going to give my all, but beyond a podium, I’ll be happy if I manage to improve my best times ”, recognized the young swimmer, registered in three competitions (50m butterfly, 100m freestyle and 100m backstroke).
“The shark took my right arm and pulled me down.”
Laurent Chardard discovered the world of disabled sports five years ago, after an accident at sea which almost cost him his life. While surfing on his boogie board – his first passion – in Boucan Canot, in the north-west of Reunion Island, he was the victim of a terrible bulldog shark attack. He keeps a precise memory of the offensive “Extremely fast and violent. The shark took my right arm and pulled me to the bottom ”.
The powerful blows of the jaw also tore off his right leg. He has the reflex to retaliate by hitting him in the gills with his left hand. “I don’t know where I hit it, but I also lost my left thumb. “ He plays the film of the arrival of help. And sees himself again, lucid, explaining to a firefighter, who had difficulty putting on the oxygen mask, how to open the bottle.
“I don’t feel disabled at all”
Immediately accepting his handicap, Laurent Chardard never let himself be won over by bitterness and doubt. “It was never my state of mind. Of course, I lost an arm and a leg and my life will never be like it was before, it’s a reality. But when I look at myself, I don’t feel disabled at all ”, he maintains.
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Encouraged by his family and loved ones, the young man looks to the future, overflowing with projects. He learns to write with his left hand, tinkers his own prostheses and returns to sport, guided by advice “good people ”. He approaches another surfer, victim before him of a shark attack: “He helped me a lot, showing me that it was possible to do a lot of things with one less arm. “
His lap times melt away with hard work
Passionate about the ocean, Laurent Chardard naturally turns to the water, practicing freediving in the pool with friends. No club around Bordeaux – where he has settled – not being able to welcome him in this discipline, he took his swimming license in 2017. The beginnings are sluggish.
Helped by his coach, Laurent Chardard must draw on his imagination to change his swimming “very archaic, typical of the surfer ”. Forcing himself to a weekly training of at least fifteen hours in the water, coupled with weight training sessions to balance his body, he spares no effort. His times melted, opening the doors to his first national competitions and, in the space of a few months, those of the French team.
Three years after his accident, “Baby shark” – as his training partners nicknamed him – qualified for the Worlds and the following year won a vice-world title in the 50m butterfly. He even recently competed with the top eight able-bodied swimmers in the world.
“As long as I can continue, I make the most of it”
Moving forward without looking back is the leitmotif of this engineering school graduate, who interrupted his professional integration to devote himself full time to his sport: “I can see how lucky I am to make a living from my passion. As long as I can continue, I take full advantage of it. Then the time will come for me to enter the active world. “
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When he can, Laurent Chardard goes to schools, especially on the occasion of Olympic and Paralympic Week, to share his experience with the youngest. “I really like being in contact with the students, who ask a lot of questions, without taboos and without barriers. “ But the swimmer did not give up on a surfboard. Or, why not, to cross swords, one day, with the Bordeaux para-fencer Romain Noble, whose invitation he did not forget. While preparing for the Paris Games in 2024, his new goal.
A better record than in Rio
Supervised by Guillaume Domingo,the nine swimmers of the France team are already doing better than in Rio. In 2016, the Blues returned from Brazil with three medals (one in silver and two in bronze).
In Tokyo, French swimmers have already won five medals. Thursday September 2, Florent Marais, who had finished second in his series, won bronze in the 100m backstroke in the S10 category. Before him, Ugo Didier had distinguished himself by climbing twice on the podium, with a silver medal in the 400m freestyle and a bronze in the 200m medley (SM9). Alex Portal also won two medals in his S13 category: silver in the 200m medley and bronze in the 400m freestyle.
For his first participation in the Games, Laurent Chardard, vice-champion of Europe and the world, reached two finals, finishing fourth in the 50m butterfly and seventh in the 100m freestyle, four tenths from the gold medal, the Italian Antonio Fantin.