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The good, the bad and the ugly: France’s year in sport
The year 2012 proved to be a dramatic one for France. From triumphant Olympic swimmers to sulky footballers and shamed handballer players, 2012 gave France its fair share of highs and lows as well as several unsavoury episodes.
It’s fair to say the sporting jamboree that was the year 2012 provided France with its ample share of triumphs and disasters.
Let’s start with the positive. Although many will argue 2012’s greatest sporting achievement was Lionel Messi’s record-breaking goal haul or even Usain Bolt’s stunning defence of his Olympic sprint titles but arguably the award for the most incredible sporting feat of 2012 should go to the little known Frenchman Philippe Croizon.
Croizon’s exploits of swimming between five continents would have been impressive under normal circumstances but the 43-year-old managed to achieve it without his arms and legs.
Croizon’s limbs were amputated after he was electrocuted with a force of more than 20,000 volts in 1994 as he tried to remove a TV antenna from a roof.
Maybe it was Croizon’s achievements in the water that inspired France’s Olympic swimmers to glory at the London 2012 Games.
The swimming team got France’s 2012 Olympics off to such a whirlwind start that President François Hollande felt confident enough to jibe UK Prime Minister David Cameron during a trip to London about the number of gold medals his country had won.
One of those gold medals went to the French men's 4x100m freestyle relay team, who provided one of the most stunning upsets of the games when they beat the strong favourites USA.
The sight of France’s Yannick Agnel reeling in the giant Ryan Lochte on the last leg had men, women and children screaming at their television sets across the country.
Agnel really rubbed Lochte’s face in it when he went on to beat the American to gold in the 200 metre freestyle days later. Camille Muffat, 23, also picked up a gold for France in the women’s 400m individual freestyle and Florent Manaudou won a surprise gold in the 50m freestyle to send the French swimming team into raptures.
Although Cameron had the last laugh with Britain’s Olympians topping podiums on a daily basis, Hollande and his countrymen were able to celebrate gold medals for Teddy Riner in judo, Renaud Lavillenie in the men’s pole vault and Tony Estanguet, who triumphed for a third time in the men’s canoe slalom.
France’s men's handball team also claimed gold at London, but more of them later.
In the end France’s Olympic team brought home a total of 34 medals from London including 11 golds and were rewarded for their sterling efforts with an open top bus ride down the Champs Elysée.
Les Bleus suffer the blues
When it comes to the commonly used phrase ‘the good, the bad and the ugly’, France’s national football team Les Bleus demonstrated all three in 2012.
Thankfully for supporters the year ended on a positive note when France performed stoically to hold World and double European champions Spain to a 1-1 draw in Madrid to keep alive their chances of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup.
But this result under new manager Didier Deschamps was not enough to compensate for the disappointment after the team’s poor performances at Euro 2012, where the behaviour of several of the players revived painful memories of the team’s mutiny at the 2010 World Cup.
Samir Nasri most significant involvement in the tournament was to launch a foul-mouthed tirade at journalists who dared to criticise him. There were also much publicised dressing rows and other plays were criticised for sulking after being substituted.
Furthermore, French midfielder Yann M’Vila was slapped with a lengthy ban after defying a team curfew to sneak out to a nightclub whilst on duty with the Under 21s team.
The image of France’s footballers, plunged even further in the eyes of the public when it emerged in August that stars Franck Ribery and Karim Benzema would face trial on accusations they solicited an underage prostitute.
Believe it or not the story of the country's footballers behaving badly was not France’s biggest sporting scandal of 2012. That title went to the country’s handball players.
In October, 18 people - including nine players from France’s top handball team Montpellier - were arrested by police in connection with match fixing allegations.
The players later admitted placing bets that their team would lose a match against a weaker side, but insisted they did not throw the game.
The alert was raised after a total of €5,000 in bets placed at three tobacconist-bookmakers netted a haul of 200,000 euros.
The investigation rumbles on, but the sport may never recover in France.
Tour de France tarnished
The same could also be said of cycling after a tumultuous year in which American rider Lance Armstrong was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles, after being accused of being at the heart of a sophisticated doping programme.
The scandal rocked cycling to the core and left Tour de France chiefs desperately trying to rescue the reputation of the most famous road race in the world.
Race director Christian Prudhomme was forced to launch an impassioned plea to supporters not to turn their back on the event saying “Doping is the enemy, not cycling and even less so the Tour”.
After such a tumultuous year, here’s hoping the French Olympic teams sterling efforts influences other team sports.