29-year old French swimming hero Alain Bernard will be honored Friday in a huge retirement party for him and two of his 2008 Olympic teammates at le Cercle des Nageurs d’Antibes.
Bernard, Boris Steimetz, and Christophe Lebon all chose to call-it-a-career after the Olympics in 2012 (Bernard was the only swimmer who made the team), but all three were a part of the 2008 team that with 6 total medals, laid the groundwork for the four-gold explosion that we saw in London.
Bernard’s greatest success and most painful defeat both came in Beijing. He was the individual champion in the men’s 100 free, which made him the first French man to win gold since 1952.
Prior to that, though, he was on the wrong end of the most famous moment in swimming history. Despite splitting a 46.7 to anchor France’s 400 free relay at the Olympics, faster than most would have imagined plausible by standard means of human aquatic locomotion, he was run-down in the last 50 meters by American Jason Lezak.
He took a second gold medal in 2012 as a prelims member of the 400 free relay, though as only the 5th finisher at France’s Trials was not invited to swim in finals.
Lebon and Steimetz are not quite as well-known as their co-honorees at this ceremony, but they were certainly a major part of France’s resurgence in the pool. Lebon was the last man to swim in individual butterfly for France at the Olympics, an obvious weakness to their overall program, and Lebon was a member of the prelims group in the same 400 free relay where Bernard took silver.
The event will have tributes, special exhibition races, appearance, and different activities, though the exact schedule of events is being kept under wraps. Regardless, it sounds like it will be a fantastic party to bid bon voyage to three of France’s great champions.