Léon Marchand, the Olympic dream

Léon Marchand, the Olympic dream
Léon Marchand, the Olympic dream

The speaker warms up the room and the audience claps their hands. “ En route to Paris », he shouts into the microphone. Because these French Swimming Championships, which took place this week (June 16-21) in the immense L’Odyssée aquatic complex, in the suburbs of Chartres (Eure-et-Loir), served as qualification for the Olympic Games .

In a warm-up pool, Léon Marchand tries to prepare anonymously. But his bright green swimming cap in the colors of his club, the Toulouse Dauphins, quickly allows you to spot him. From a footbridge overlooking the basin, professional photographers “ shootent » on the telephoto lens while budding swimmers machine-gun him with their phones. “ He said hello to us », enthuses a blond head.

If most of its competitors have the physique of a Golgoth, or, to stick with aquatic semantics, of a lobster bodybuilder, Léon Marchand (five world champion titles at 22 years old) has the shrimp size: 1.83 meters for 70 kilos, according to his official file. Actually, slightly more. “ He may seem a little scruffy », smiles Sophie Kamoun.

The dapper television consultant from BeIN Sports explains: “ He has very large hands, large feet, fantastic flexibility, great laxity of the joints. There are other qualities than just having muscle when you do high-level swimming. He has innate qualities. He goes faster than the others underwater. Léon, when he dives, he comes out thirty centimeters in front of everyone, especially since he trains in the United States. »

When “Léon” appears, an entire stadium stands up and chants his name

Nearly three years ago, the Haut-Garonnais went into exile across the Atlantic, with Bob Bowman, the man who shaped the greatest specialist of all time, the American Michael Phelps (twenty-three Olympic titles, a record). His returns to France are rare and therefore constitute an event. In Chartres, the whistles of the referee ordering the competitors to get on the starting blocks ring in the ears. The decibels literally explode the eardrums when the most famous swimmers enter the fray, like the sprinter Florent Manaudou, whose muscular body is increasingly tattooed, or the butterfly specialist Mélanie Henique with her hair dyed pink.

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But when “Léon” appears, an entire stadium stands up and chants his name. Spectators know that the rocket that swims before their eyes and wins its races one after the other (four national titles in the Chartres swimming pool) has the capacity to win several Olympic titles this summer, which would certainly make it the French athlete of Paris 2024, or even just one of the stars of these Olympics.

He will be expected in particular on July 31, during an evening where he could climb onto the podium of the Games twice in the space of an hour and a half: in the 200 meter butterfly then in the 200 meter breaststroke. A tough routine that he performed on Wednesday in Chartres, the French Federation having modeled its championship program on that of the Olympic Games.

Qualified in 4 events, the swimmer is aiming for as many gold medals

The “200 pap’” to start. Won in 1’54”08 two seconds ahead of second. There was not even time to celebrate his coronation as Léon Marchand headed off to the cheers of the public towards the large outdoor recovery pool with, in the distance, the majestic silhouette of Notre-Dame de Chartres cathedral. To control his state of fatigue, management checks his lactic acid level in his blood.

Fifty minutes later, he dived back and won the “200 breaststroke” event in 2’08”95, again achieving the Olympic minimums. Nicolas Castel, the coach of his original Toulouse club, believes that the mission is successful: “ There are still small adjustments between the two races, readjustments, nothing very important. He told me he was a little hungry. You will have to be vigilant. Otherwise, everything is perfect. » All smiles, the double winner of the day presents himself, his curly mop of hair still damp, in front of the pack of journalists who have come to witness his exploits.

A little tired by the last fifty meters, he remembers above all that “ it was cool ». « I liked ! Afterwards, at the Games, you will have to swim much faster. » With his machine-gun delivery and his joyful tone of voice, Léon Marchand adds in a burst of laughter: “ 200 breaststroke-200 breaststroke, that’s a pretty weird duo. And I love anything weird. » For Sophie Kamoun, it is clear, “ something is happening. It reminds me of what we experienced with Laure Manaudou at the time. There is an electric atmosphere and three times more media than usual in the press box. At the same time, we are dealing with an extraterrestrial. »

A group of children waits at the foot of the stands for an autograph session. A little boy, whose birthday it is, even gets a photo alongside his idol and bursts into tears. He’s like that, Léon Marchand. It sells dreams and brings joy. While waiting to touch, next month, the Olympic grail which seems promised to him.



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