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French stars of sailing, swimming and boxing felled in Argentine helicopter crash

© AFP / FRANCE 24 | Camille Muffat (left), Florence Arthaud (centre), and Alexis Vastine (right), were killed in Monday's helicopter crash in north-western Argentina.

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2015-03-10

Sailor Florence Arthaud, swimmer Camille Muffat and boxer Alexis Vastine, who died along with seven other people in Monday's helicopter crash in Argentina, were three of France's finest athletes.

Florence Arthaud, ‘the fiancée of the Atlantic’

Florence Arthaud, 57, was an accomplished sailor and one of the first women to carve out a place for herself in a sport long dominated by men. “I’ve lived my life in the fast lane,” she told AFP last year, shortly before the start of the Route du Rhum, the North Atlantic crossing she famously won in 1990. The victory in the prestigious solitary race earned her the nickname “the fiancée of the Atlantic”.

The daughter of publisher Jacques Arthaud, she was born on October 28, 1957, in Boulogne-Billancourt, a leafy suburb west of Paris. Aged 8 she revelled in the victory of Frenchman Eric Tabarly in the Observer Single-Handed Trans-Atlantic Race, an exploit that ended decades of Anglo-American domination. It felt like “revenge” for Napoleon’s defeats at the hands of British admiral Horatio Nelson, she would later say.


Arthaud was only 20 when she took part in her first Route du Rhum, in 1978, wrapping up the gruelling crossing in 11th place. During the 1986 edition she changed course half-way through the race, dashing to the rescue of fellow navigator Loïc Caradec, whose catamaran had capsized. She found the boat, but not the sailor.

She had her own brushes with death over the course of an eventful life. A serious car accident put her in a coma for two months when she was 17, and four years ago she fell off her boat at nighttime off the coast of Corsica, but was able to call for help using a waterproof mobile phone. She was eventually rescued by a helicopter after swimming for two hours at sea. “It just wasn’t my day,” she said after recovering from hypothermia in Marseille. “But miracles sometimes happen.”

Camille Muffat, the gentle giant

Camille Muffat, 25, enjoyed a brief but highly successful swimming career, winning gold in the 400-metre freestyle at the Olympic Games in 2012, and adding a silver medal in the 200-metre freestyle and a bronze in the 4 by 200-metre freestyle relay. A shy and unassuming champion, she had since retired from swimming to focus on her personal life.

Muffat discovered the sport as a child in her hometown of Nice, on the French Riviera. The tall and attractive blonde made a name for herself aged 15 when she defeated Olympic champion Laure Manaudou, then the darling of French swimming, in a medley event. But the inevitable comparison between the two soon became a burden for the young Muffat, who would only flourish five years later after turning to freestyle.

As Manaudou’s star dimmed, Muffat became one of the stars of a formidable French swimming squad, which picked up four golds, two silvers and a bronze at the London Olympics. “Camille was quite a shy and reserved person. She was discreet. But when it was time for a bit of a laugh she was always there,” fellow Olympic gold medalist Amaury Leveaux told AP. “French sport has lost a great champion.''

Alexis Vastine, the cursed boxer

A fiery and temperamental boxer, Alexis Vastine, 28, won bronze at the 2008 Beijing Olympics in the light-welterweight category. But he is best remembered for the tears shed after his controversial semi-final loss to Manuel Felix Diaz, after he was docked points by the referee in the final round.

Four years after the Beijing heartbreak, history appeared to repeat itself at the London Olympics, where he drew on points in the quarter-finals but lost on a complicated countback rule, thus missing out on a medal. The fuming Frenchman punched the ring with his naked fist, before once again breaking down in tears. “This is politics, not sport,” he later said.

Hailing from the Norman town of Pont-Audemer, Vastine was born into a family of boxers. He picked up a silver medal at the European Championships in 2010, and won four titles at the World Military Championships between 2008 and 2014. After contemplating retirement following the London Olympics, he resumed training following a bout of depression, determined to have another shot at Olympic gold in 2016.


Date created : 2015-03-10


    French sports stars among dead in Argentina helicopter crash

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