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From gaffes to glory: a year in French sport

Text by: Emmanuel VERSACE
8 min

From the exceptional run of the national handball squad to the embarrassing show at the Word Cup in South Africa, takes a look at the best and worst French sports performances of 2010.



Despres dominates at Dakar
The winner of the off-road automobile Dakar rally in 2005 and 2007, French driver Cyril Despres, landed his third title. This time in the harsh terrain of South America.

Headline-grabbing handball

After grabbing gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and winning the Men’s World Handball Championship in Croatia in 2009, France’s national handball team marked a historic treble by taking the Euro 2010 title in Austria. Led by coach Claude Onesta, the self-dubbed “Experts” edged out handball heavyweight Croatia 25-21 in the final.


Frosty rendez-vous at Vancouver Olympics
The Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics could have proved disastrous for France if not for the gold medal performances by Jason Lamy Chappuis (Nordic combined) and Vincent Jay (biathlon). Hopefuls Brian Joubert (figure skating) and Marion Rolland (alpine skiing) were frozen out of the competition.


Grand Slam for French centenary in Six Nations
After a flawless five-win campaign in Rugby’s Six Nations Championship, the French side bettered England 12-10 in the tournament’s final game in Paris. After six years without a major title, the French Grand Slam was a prize fit to celebrate the country’s centenary in the tournament.



Sex scandal kicks off disastrous year in football

France’s best know daily Le Monde revealed on its website that three players on the national football team solicited the services of an underage prostitute named Zahia. The names of Sidney Govou, Karim Benzema and Franck Ribery quickly make front-page spreads, and the decadent episode haunted the players until the French squad’s meltdown in the 2010 South Africa World Cup (see below).


Lyon hopes dashed
For the first time in its history, Lyon reached the semi-finals of the Champions League. But the French football hopefuls fell at the last hurdle against an invincible Bayern Munich.


Euro 2016 win
Beating out the Italian and Turkish bids, France was picked to host football’s Euro 2016 tournamount. Eighteen years after the 1998 France World Cup, twelve stadiums across the country will get major makeovers estimated to cost 1.7 billion euros.

Marseille takes two
After eighteen draught-filled years, Marseille’s faithful fans saw their team win two titles. The team took the Ligue 1 title and then the Coupe de France - accomplishments attributed to the return of coach Didier Deschamps.



All French Heineken Cup
This year’s Heineken Cup final was 100% French, pitting Toulouse against Biarritz. Toulouse’s 21-19 victory gifted the team with its fourth European title – and the distinction of being Europe’s most successful club in the tournament.

Party in Clermont-Ferrand

After ten failed attempts, rugby club Clermont-Ferrand finally won the French league’s coveted Brennus Shield. Victory was twice as sweet as it came at the expense of Perpignan, who dashed Clermont-Ferrand’s title hopes last year. More than 50,000 fans converged on the central square, Place de Jaude, to celebrate the city’s heroes.



'Les Bleus': villains or scapegoats?
'Les Bleus': villains or scapegoats?

World Cup calamity
France’s football players tallied up ridicule instead of goals at the World Cup in South Africa. Chelsea striker Nicolas Anelka was booted off the team after insulting coach Raymond Domenech during halftime in the match against Mexico. In a strange display of team spirit, captain Patrice Evra protested the expulsion by leading a mutiny of the Blues during a training session. The team finished last in its group, with no wins and only one goal. France placed 27th out of 32 nations and plunged to 21st place in FIFA’s world rankings.

57th at 52
Jeannie Longo again proved she is the France’s queen of cycling. At age 52, she won her 57th cycling championship (French and world).


Contador's turn
Spain’s Alberto Contador won his third Tour de France, finishing ahead of Luxembourg’s Andy Schleck. But five French riders (Sylvain Chavanel, Sandy Casar, Christophe Riblon, Thomas Voeckler and Pierrick Fedrigo) distinguished themselves by winning eight stages.



Bouncing back in Barcelona
French track and field lifted up French sports after the football fiasco in South Africa. France finished second in the European championships in Barcelona taking home 18 medals, a new record for the country. Sprinter Christophe Lemaitre won three gold medals (4x100m, 100m, 200m) and was selected European Athlete of the Year by the European Athletic Federation. Myriam Soumare also emerged as an exciting new French track star. She won gold (200m), silver (4x100m) and bronze (100m).

France on ice
Hockey goaltender Cristobal Huet won the Stanley Cup alongside his Chicago Blackhawks, becoming the first French person in history to win this distinction.

Fastest flippers

Led by Alain Bernard, Camille Lacourt, Yannick Agnel and Frederick Bousquet, France swam to first place at the European championship in Budapest, picking up 21 medals. Also a French first.


Teddy takes on Tokyo
Teddy laughed and then Teddy wept. At the World Judo Championships in Tokyo, France’s Teddy Riner, the defending champion, grabbed gold in the +100kg category but faltered in the open weight category, losing to Japan’s Daiki Kamikawa. A fifth title, which would have made Teddy the greatest judoka in history, was just out of reach.

The national squad that wasn't
The French basketball team made a fantastic start at the World Championship in Turkey with wins against Spain and defending champion Canada, but then ran out of steam, losing to Lithuania, New Zealand and Turkey. One obvious problem: France’s NBA pros declined to represent their country.

Domenech's last stand
The painful memories of the World Cup refused to die away. France’s Football Federation fired coach Raymond Domenech citing “serious misconduct”. But “the most hated man in France” hit back: Domenech sued the Federation for three million euros, and is now waiting to collect his failure-tainted cheque.



Seven for Séb
Sébastien Loeb and co-driver Daniel Elena of Monaco confirmed their place in the pantheon of motorsport by winning a seventh consecutive title at the Citroen World Rally Championships.

Volleyball blunder
Men’s world-class volleyball almost went the way of football for France. Player Earvin Ngapeth was excluded from the group for disciplinary reasons. France bowed out, losing to Italy 3-1 and finished 11th overall.


Seven swords
Under the majestic glass ceilings of Paris’ Grand Palais, the French men’s fencing team rattled their way to a seventh consecutive world title. Impressive performances by Italy, China and Russia left little else for France to stab.



Springing back
Gymnast Thomas Bouhail won gold on vault in the Netherlands to become the first French world champion in over 50 years.

Renault motors Vettel to glory
Racing on the French-built Renault motors and flying Red Bull’s flag, Germany’s Sebastian Vettel became the youngest F1 world champion at only 23.


Mormeck on the warpath

Jean-Marc Mormeck won his third bout as a heavyweight against Timur Ibragimov of Uzbekistan. "The Marksman" is now hungry for a big belt, and has David Haye, who defeated him in 2007, in the crosshairs.



No Davis Cup
After an inspiring run, Gael Monfils, Gilles Simon, Michael Llodra and Arnaud Clement lost the Davis Cup final against Serbia. A few days after that bitter defeat, French captain Guy Forget, denounced the attitude of the Serbian spectators and the soft attitude of the judges.

Four champions
Swimming at the World Championship in Dubai the Bernard-Bousquet-Agnel-Gilot quartet gave France its first world championship in the 4x100m freestyle.