French swimmer Manaudou follows sister's lead by taking gold
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France won its fourth gold in the pool on Friday when Florent Manaudou – the younger brother of 2004 gold medalist Laure Manaudou – shocked defending Olympic champion and world record-holder Cesar Cielo in the 50-metres freestyle.
REUTERS - Cool nerves and support from his Olympic champion sister helped Florent Manaudou power to victory in the 50 metres freestyle, the 21-year-old said as he cemented unprecedented success in the pool for the French team.
The 50 freestyle, dubbed the “splash and dash”, is the shortest distance over which Olympians swim and is the closest thing to the celebrated 100 metres in athletics - a glory race and the ultimate test of speed and power.
Manaudou, second-fastest off the blocks, won by 0.2 seconds, touching the wall at 21.34 seconds, just shy of an Olympic record - leaving American Cullen Jones to claim silver. Beijing Olympic champion Cesar Cielo, from Brazil, came third.
“I don’t think I have yet realised what I did to swim so fast,” the sprinter said.
Victory from Manaudou - a towering 21-year-old with slicked back hair more redolent of a screen idol than a swimmer - secured France’s fourth swimming gold at the 2012 Games and its seventh medal from the pool, a haul due in large part to the rising profiles of Yannick Agnel and Camille Muffat.
France is reaping the rewards of investment in swimming and an overhaul of its system of clubs, early-recruitment and training that began in earnest after the team failed to bring home any medals from the 1996 Atlanta Games.
It was Manaudou’s sister Laure, then 17, that marked the renaissance of French swimming when she won gold in Athens in the 400 freestyle, France’s first title in over 50 years.
In London, the team have stormed to gold with some surprising upsets - unseating the defending U.S. team in the 4x100 relay, home favourite Rebecca Adlington in the 400 freestyle and the U.S. again in the men’s 200 freestyle.
“I think I was the most relaxed swimmer before the final - I knew the key was to be relaxed for a 50,” Manaudou said.
“The heats were the toughest, the semis were a little less tough and for the final, I told myself I had already made a success of the competition.”
His sister, who hugged him by the pool as he emerged from the water, told him she was “very, very proud”.
Laure Manaudou was unbeaten on the 400 freestyle between June 2004 and April 2008, winning 23 finals in succession, but she then garnered more headlines for her turbulent personal life than for her swimming.
The enfant terrible of French swimming has since settled down in Alabama with partner and team mate Frederick Bousquet and has a young daughter.
She qualified for London but has not made the final on either of her individual backstroke events.
This time, Muffat, 22, and the bookish Agnel, 20, have surfaced as France’s new swimming sensations.
Agnel, who brought home two gold medals in 24 hours, was the man behind one of the most sensational upsets when he won gold in the 200 metres freestyle, leaving U.S. favourite Ryan Lochte off the podium.
“Florent has taken a lot from Yannick, from Camille, from the whole team,” his coach, Romain Barnier, said, adding he was surprised by the 21-year-old’s success.
Manaudou, he said, had the “genetic propensity” to match his sister’s career, even after a shaky start earlier this week.
“When I saw him in training, I knew he could do it. Then in the heats, I thought it was impossible. In the semi-finals, I thought it was barely possible - and now he is the champion.”
Manaudou, who says he will turn his mind to butterfly and the 100m, said his thoughts now were of one thing: a holiday.