Tokyo Olympics: open water swimmers, ambassadors of outdoor sport



What is an athlete who won a bronze medal in Rio in 2016 looking for in Tokyo? “Gold of course, I’ve been waiting for this for five years. But my goal is wider, answers Marc-Antoine Olivier, one of the best swimming marathoners in the world. We all want to publicize our sport, which is fashionable, in step with the times ”, he explains.

→ READ. Tokyo Olympics: Jean Quiquampoix in gold with a speed gun, after the Rio silver

The Northerner thinks big for his discipline, especially in France, a country where natural swimming sites are innumerable. “You can swim in rivers, in lakes, in the sea, in the north, the south, the west, anywhere in fact. We are the ideal country for our sport ”, he emphasizes.

“To surpass yourself in a natural setting”

According to him, swimming in open water meets the canons of outdoor sports, called “outdoor” in sports jargon, which allow “It’s up to everyone to surpass themselves in a beautiful natural setting”. The development of mountain biking, paragliding, gravel (all-terrain version of the racing bike) and of course trail variants meet these expectations.

Another motivation, just as important: in these new disciplines, on ordinary events (except major championships or Olympic Games), there is initially a mixture of professional athletes who run in front and the crowd of anonymous. “On the rapidly developing Coupe de France circuit, we exchange, we talk to each other, it’s precious for an athlete to share », Continues Marc-Antoine Olivier.

The director of the French team, Stéphane Lecat, former winner of the biggest open water race in the world (read below) goes even further. “I have nothing against swimming in a pool, but I find it difficult to understand that we continue to build hard pools full of chemicals, whereas it would be sufficient to develop sites with natural materials ”, he said.To frame nature in a way …

A unique 10 km course

The Olympic Committee has been able to supervise the practice of open water swimming on the program since the Beijing Games in 2008. “Open water has adapted to the IOC’s request by abandoning the 25 km or the 50 km in progress in the other championships, in favor of a single 10 km course, ie about two hours of swimming” , indicates Stéphane Lecat.

The fifty swimmers who will set off on Tuesday August 3 (at 11:30 p.m. French time for women) and Wednesday 4 (same time for men) respectively in Tokyo Bay will be within sight. “It is essential that we be seen as best as possible even if it is true, our sport is not easy to film on television”, resumes Stéphane Lecat. Which imagines a whole bunch of technological devices making it possible to escape the “pack” effect of the numbered caps leaving the edge and that we never see again before the finish.

Departure at the foot of the Eiffel Tower in 2024

He prefers to speak of a platoon. This cycling term is perfectly valid, because open water swimming is an aquatic cousin of the bicycle, with which it shares the training techniques: daily outings on the field (in the water) and not too many weight training sessions. (unlike the pool, where swimmers spend a lot of time lifting cast iron).

In the race, there are breakaways, group strategies, aspiration and wake phenomena, just like on a bicycle. Even mental asphyxiation pushing the swimmers to lose the pedals. As during this infamous 10 km from Rio where the French Aurélie Muller was deprived of her silver medal for bad behavior during the final sprint. “It’s unfortunate that we are always brought back to this story, it happens in many sports, cycling, triathlon, but there it was seen”, pleads Stéphane Lecat.

In the absence of Aurélie Muller, who could not qualify for Tokyo, France is represented by three athletes, including at least two, Lara Grangeon, fourth in the 10 km of the last Worlds of 2019, and especially Marc- Antoine Olivier, vice world champion 2019, are able to bring a medal.

“We know that we can train a lot of vocations”, concludes Marc-Antoine Olivier, standard bearer of an increasingly less confidential sport. All summer races brought together 4,000 swimmers five or six years ago, and there are ten times more today. What the Paris 2024 organizing committee took into account by imagining a prestigious starting point for the open water race in three years: the Pont d’Iéna, at the foot of the Eiffel Tower.

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A former long distance champion at the head of the Blues

European 25 km champion in 2000, the director of the French Open Water Team, Stéphane Lecat, 49, is best known for having won the two open water swimming monuments several times. Four-time winner of La Sante Fe-Coronda (Argentina), a 62 km marathon, he also won three times on the crossing of Lac Saint-Jean, in Quebec. He holds the record for this 40 km event in 6:22 hrs. Like most great open water swimmers, he also crossed the Channel in 8:19 hrs from England to France.

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