It was in May that Olympic champion Yannick Agnel informed the swimming world that he would be leaving his training base in Nice, France for the opportunity to train at the North Baltimore Aquatic Club with Coach Bob Bowman. Now almost six months later Agnel told AFP Press Agency that he loves his new home and that he is not going to rule out the possibility of staying past the Olympics in Rio, “What’s for sure is that I’m here for at least three years, at least until Rio,” said Agnel.
“I don’t want to say that, after three years, it’ll be over and I’m going. One never knows what might happen.”
“What I do know is that I really love to swim and I really want to train more. I love what I do. I love this environment. So no, I certainly don’t rule out doing more than three years here.”
At a press conference in May where Agnel discussed his decision to come to America he told the press, “I want to find with Bob Bowman what was lacking in Nice: warmth, sharing, sincerity,” Agnel said, roughly, in French. “That Fabrice (Pellerin) has always wanted to avoid. He always wanted to put distance between himself and his swimmers. It is a choice that I respect and that works, I’m a double Olympic champion and I owe him.”
It appears that Agnel has found what he was looking for both in his coach and his new American environment, “Everybody hugs each other, cheers each other on, encourages each other to the end… The motto here is, we train seriously, but we don’t take ourselves seriously.”
For anyone who has been to Meadowbrook (the home of the North Baltimore Aquatic Club) they know it is a special and inspiring environment. Whether it be the massive pictures of their successful Olympians, the athletes in the water or the coaches on deck, it is a place where athletes can’t help to be motivated to be at their best.
When walking on to the deck in 2008 with the legendary swimming writer Cecil Colwin he stopped me in my tracks and said, “Listen, that sound is the sound of something very different and something very special.”
Agnel’s performances in Barcelona were good enough for him to return home with gold in the 200 freestyle (1:44.20) and the 4 x 100 freestyle relay (lead-off – 48.76). Both performances were well off his lifetime bests of 47.84 in the 100 and 1:43.14 in the 200, but both Bowman and Agnel looked as the meet as a learning experience to discover how his training needs to be constructed moving forward.
“What’s changing is that we have a plan and we can put it into action,” said Agnel.
“As Bob said this summer, we’ll play it by ear on the way to Barcelona, and then learn the sheet music. Now we have three years to Rio (and) a road map” to get there.”
It has not only been Agnel who has been happy with his change of environment, Bowman has been very impressed by the 21 year old Frenchman, “He’s really quite similar to Michael in several ways — his mental approach, his dedication to training, those sorts of things,” Bowman told AFP.
“But he’s also quite different and I think he can stand on his own. He doesn’t need a comparison to someone else … He’s the first Yannick.”
The coach-swimmer relationship is a special one and the strength of that relationship quite often determines the ultimate success of the athlete. Agnel went looking for the type of relationship that he desired, something he appears to have found. In fact that relationship and the environment in Baltimore may be enough to keep him in America past 2016.
Videos of Agnel in Baltimore can be found at L’Equipe’s website