Two days before the end of the festivities in the Tokyo Aquatic Center, the French medal counter is still seized up and the scenario of a dotted zero is approaching. Unheard of since the Atlanta Games in 1996 for French swimming. Since then, the swimmers had rebelled: a medal in Sydney in 2000, six in Athens in 2004 and Beijing in 2008, seven in London in 2012 and two in Rio.
No Frenchman is in the final on Saturday morning, so there will only be Sunday left so as not to interrupt the end of a cycle of five fruitful Olympic Games in the pools. But all is not yet finished since four swimmers can still save the results of the tricolor swimming.
Manaudou and Grousset facing Dressel
He had surprised everyone in London. At 21, Florent Manaudou won the Olympic title in the 50m freestyle, ahead of American Cullen Jones and reigning Olympic champion Cesar Cielo. In Tokyo, the dean of the France team wants to reconnect with gold on his fetish distance. Despite a break away from the pools between 2016 and 2019, the 30-something has returned to a competitive level. In the playoffs, Manaudou posted his best time of the season, 21”65, and the second qualifying time for the semi-finals.
The other committed Frenchman, Maxime Grousset, will want to create a surprise. Considered the new strongman of French swimming, he splashed his talent on the pools tokyoites: 4th in the 100m freestyle final, the sprinter French had impressed in the 4×100 meter relay a few days earlier. Champion of France in the 50m, he qualified in the semi-final with the 15th time in the series, in 21”97.
But the Blues will have a hard time facing a raised plateau and in particular a scarecrow: Caeleb Dressel, new American swimming superstar since the retirement of Michael Phelps. Already winner of the 100m with an Olympic record and the 4x100m relay, Dressel fully intends to win another gold medal. The swimmer from Florida (24) has the best time of the season with his race in 21”04, on June 20 at the American selections, and set the best time of the series in Tokyo (21”32).
Wattel called last minute
In the women’s 50m, there will also be blue-white-red at the start of the semi-finals. The experienced Mélanie Henique (28 years old) completed her series in 24”69, 13th time and therefore qualifying. The Marseille swimmer will be able to hope for a qualification in the final if she approaches her French record, 21”34, set in December 2020.
After being very prominent in the 100m butterfly, Marie Wattel disappointed with the 18th time in the 50m freestyle heats (24”82). While the door to the semi-finals had closed in front of her for five hundredths, the Northerner was drafted after the forfeit of two swimmers a few hours before the race.
The two Frenchwomen will face a very high plateau. The Australians expect to complete these Olympics with a bang with arrows Emma McKeon (24”02, best time in the heats and Olympic record) and Cate Campbell (24”15) who swam in less than 24 seconds this season, just like the European champion, Ranomi Kromowidjodjo (23”97).