A Conversation with Fabrice Pellerin about Doha and the Future of French Swimming

SwimSwam’s Anne Lepesant sat down with Fabrice Pellerin, head coach of Olympic Nice Natation, to discuss the French swimmers’ performance at the 2014 World Short Course Championships in Doha, and what’s coming up in 2015. Below are Pellerin’s year-end reflections:

How did you feel France performed at the recent World Short Course Championships in Doha?

“France, like several other nations, took a ‘minimalist’ approach to team selection for December’s World Swimming Championships in Doha, Qatar: with only 10 French swimmers making the trip. This indicates that French swimming has not yet fully embraced the short course format.

“Of the absentees there are those swimmers who preferred to dedicate this first cycle of the season to 2015’s long course schedule, i.e. the French trials in April and next summer’s World Championships in Kazan. While others are engaging a longer-term approach that relied on a lightened winter program before a long preparation cycle starting in January with a focus on the Rio 2016 Olympics.”

You begin your long course season in France much earlier than we do in the United States, right?

“The French swimming community has traditionally devoted little importance and therefore little investment in the 25-meter disciplines, generally considering, rightly or not, that the ‘serious stuff’ starts in the New Year for the 50m calendar. Consequently, as a nation, we have dedicated this season’s competition portfolio to long course with a series starting in Nice at the end of January based upon the model of the US Grand Prix.

“Returning to events in Doha, and running parallel with the French team concern, I think that the ones that showed up lacking prior practice in 25m races hardly had a chance to shine.”

And yet, certain members of the French team were wildly successful in Doha.

“It was clear that those swimmers who excelled in Doha benefited greatly from the experience they had gained during the World Cup leading into Doha, some good examples being Chad le Clos, Mireia Belmonte and the likes of Katinka Hosszú.

“This is a lesson that must not be underestimated in future. Whether we like it or not, the World Championships in 25m gains a little more popularity and prestige each passing year, something evidenced by the healthy French television audiences.

“To approach the 25m World Championships with the best chance of success requires consistent, quality preparation, learning and enhancing skills and confidence at the distance. Otherwise it may be better to not to take part; I would say, do it well or not at all.”

With respect to your own swimmers, how would you assess the performance of the ONN Team Elite at Doha?

“Five swimmers were present in Doha from Nice: three French (Charlotte Bonnet, Anna Santamans and Marie Wattel), one Hungarian (Evelyn Verrasztó) and one Swiss (Jeremy Desplanches). The results were encouraging.

“With my colleagues in the French Riviera (Maxime Leutenegger, Mark Trude et Joan Rieu), we continue to work hard to develop and build an exciting training environment in Nice for the emergence of a new generation of swimmers; French or otherwise.

“We will give our best in pursuit of our goal. It is not just a question for Nice but for France as a whole.  The hope is that we can succeed in raising the level of women’s swimming to that achieved by the men.”

What are your plans for the coming year?

“Having accompanied Camille Muffat, Yannick Agnel and Clément Lefert from their beginning to the London Olympics in 2012 climax, I can tell you that helping a swimmer to realise their full potential takes time (amongst other things!). The intention is to qualify 4 or 5 Nice swimmers for the Olympics Games in Rio.

“It is a fantastic challenge, and one that we do not take lightly, particularly if we want to consolidate, and hopefully improve, our global ranking.”

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About Anne Lepesant

Anne Lepesant

Anne Lepesant is the mother of four daughters, all of whom swam in college. With an undergraduate degree from Princeton (where she was an all-Ivy tennis player) and an MBA from INSEAD, she worked for many years in the financial industry, both in France and the U.S. Anne is currently …

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