French three-time Olympic medalist Laure Manaudou has announced that she will “probably stop after the European Championships,” to be held in her home country from November 22nd-25th. Her coach does not necessarily agree, however. After the Olympics, she packed up and moved back to Marseilles, where she trains under Romain Barnier, who said that he is unconvinced of the retirement in a press conference Friday.
“There is in her a desire to do well. She told me, and it was the thing that she expressed most since the beginning of the season, she had in her dreams athlete to compete in France and to shine,” Barrier told French media. He repeated multiple times that “there can be doubt” in her decision.
This would be the second retirement for Manaudou, who walked away from swimming in 2009 only to return two seasons later with designs on the London 2012 Olympics.
At the 2004 Games, when she was only a teenager, Manaudou took a gold medal in the 400 free, to which she added silver in the 800 and bronze in the 100 backstroke. Then, as she rolled full-steam ahead toward Beijing, her life was rocked by turmoil. Explicit pictures of her surfaced on the internet shortly after a very public breakup with her Italian fiancee, and fellow elite swimmer, Luca Marin, who became involved with Manaudou’s rival Federica Pellegrini.
Be it those issues or something else, Manaudou’s 2008 Olympics didn’t come together as she hoped. She led through 200 meters of the 400 free, but said she “gave up” and fell to last in the final in a 4:11.
She walked away after those Games in 2009, despite being only 22 years old. Then, she met French sprinting star Fred Bousquet, moved with him to Auburn, Alabama, and gave birth to a child Manon.
In 2011, she made her comeback to competitive swimming by exploding at a Georgia-hosted Sectionals meet. Excitement buzzed through France at the possibilities, especially given how strong she looked early in her return. She turned her focus strictly to the backstroke events, where she scheduled Olympic swims in the 100 back, the 200 back, and leading off the 400 medley relay. She didn’t make it out of the preliminary rounds in any of those races.
Despite her last two Olympics not going as well as her first, Manaudou’s influence on French swimming should not be underestimated. Prior to her win in the 400 free in Athens in 2004, France had never won a women’s Olympic medal in a freestyle race 200 meters of longer. Since her outburst, though, the French distance group has exploded with the likes of Camille Muffat and the women’s 800 free relay that took bronze in London.
Manaudou also broke one of the oldest records on the books at the 2005 World Championships, when she took almost a second off of a Janet Evans mark that had stood for 18 years.
At only 26 years old, we won’t know for sure if this time it will be for good, but if it were, Manaudou’s mark on the history books is already engraved.