Five athletes, five journeys with a common destination and a date, Tokyo, July 23rd, 2021.
Five stories to be known, to find out how many things can hide behind an Olympian or an Olympic medal.
Those who feel the pressure called to repeat themselves and obliged to succeed, a joy that sometimes tends to turn into relief. Those who have nothing to lose and therefore may even win. Those who have already achieved their goal and now can dream even bigger. Those who live a second youth, those who live an early maturity.
Here are the stories of five swimmers and their unique journey to the Tokyo Olympic Games.
One hundredth of a second is the smallest gap that can separate two positions in a swimming ranking. There’s nothing smaller. Nothing.
It’s very difficult to visualize this little fraction of time. It’s all about centimeters, in some cases even less.
So, how can something so small have such a heavy impact?
The Olympic champion of the men’s 50 freestyle in London 2012, exactly 4 years later, in 2016, retired because of that same hundredth of a second.
He did it because the distance from the first place, however small, was enough to make the difference between what could have been a success and what, in his eyes, was just a failure.
Florent Manaudou arrived at the Brazilian Olympic Games with all the eyes pointed at his perfect, marble, body. Florent, who had played the part of the outsider in the previous edition, surprising everyone from an outside lane, was the favorite in the Rio final.
He showed up on the strength of a four-year domination, but also exhausted by the media attention that he attracted outside the water, and this is something that seems to be part of the whole Manaudou family’s story.
Before heading to South America, he stated to the newspapers: “I don’t know if I’ll have the strength to continue, it will mainly depend on the results.”
That result ended up being an Olympic silver medal, behind an amazing Anthony Ervin, who had his second career success, 16 long years after winning his first Olympic title in Sydney.
Different stories that cross, destinies that touch each other, the happy ending for one that becomes a sports drama for the other one.
Florent Manaudou‘s journey to the Tokyo Olympics began there, on the 12th of August 2016, when he lost the Olympic title by one-hundredth of a second, deciding to retire.
Handball. This was his answer, following the footsteps of his father Jean-Luc who played as a pro when he was young.
Florent went back to his youthful passion and, at the age of 25, signed up for the “Aix en Provence” team, in the French division one.
But some passions cannot be hidden for too long, because, no matter what, they will come back, stronger than ever.
Sometimes you need a break. Sometimes you need to look at them from a new perspective. And some others time you just pretend to be forgotten, until the desire come back knocking on the door of your deepest self.
In a comeback, (nostalgic people would say like Michael Jordan after his stint in baseball), the French giant announces its return in 2019, and, as in a well-written romance, he started his new swimming career at the Sette Colli Trophy in Rome: the perfect frame for a great and flashy cover story.
The declared goal is to participate in the brand new professional league, the International Swimming League, that a few months later would make its debut, changing the world of swimming
In this scenario, the Tokyo Games were still far at the end of the road, close but still pretty distant, in a street that Florent then has decided to walk entirely.
So the Japanese edition of the Games will bring us an unpublished Manadou, no longer Laure’s little brother who fooled everyone as an underdog in London, and not even the giant killed by fate, which has suffered to the point of quitting, just outside Rio’s pool.
The journey towards his third Olympics has shaped a more mature Florent, aware that he no longer carries the weight of the crown on his head and that, to close the circle, he might even be able to get his hundredths of a second back.
But not everybody believes in Florent’s return. Australia’s Pinnacle Sports Book, the most robust Olympic Swimming odds for bookmaker in the world, doesn’t even have a lane for him to win the 50 free in Tokyo. Will Manaudou surprise the whole world, and repeat the story of Ervin in Rio? The former champion that is yet written off after an absence from the sport? Will the victim become the victor?