Leon Marchand is loving life.
Coming off of a wildly dominant NCAA season with the Arizona State Sun Devils, the 20-year-old Frenchman will have all eyes on him at the upcoming World Aquatics Championships in Fukuoka, Japan, and the pressure will only intensify in the lead-up to the 2024 Paris Olympic Games in front of his home country.
In a pair of recent interviews with French outlet L’Equipe, Marchand dove into a number of topics, including his future at ASU, the potential of breaking Michael Phelps‘ world record in the 400 IM, his event lineup at Worlds, and the impact his new training partners have had on him.
Will Swim At Arizona State Next Season
Given Marchand’s quick rise to stardom which really took off at the 2022 World Championships, the expectation from many was that he would turn professional after the 2022-23 NCAA season, given the sponsorship opportunity (and the need to double-down on long course training) that would await him prior to Paris 2024.
However, Marchand has committed to representing ASU in his junior season in 2023-24, specifically eyeing the NCAA team championship title after the Sun Devils finished as the runners-up to Cal last month.
“It made me want to go for the title,” he told L’Equipe, translated from French, on the team’s second-place finish at the 2023 NCAAs.
He said he will potentially sit out of the first semester, perhaps solely focusing on training, before gearing up for Pac-12s and NCAAs.
“I’m still hesitating (about) whether I’ll do just one or both semesters. But as for the competitive season, I decided to go for it. We have quite a challenge.”
400 IM World Record & The Idea of Going Sub-4:00
Ever since Marchand put Phelps’ 400 IM world record in serious jeopardy at the World Championships last summer, swimming a time of 4:04.28 to come within 44 one-hundredths of the all-time mark set by the GOAT at the 2008 Olympics (4:03.84), his potential to break the record has been a hot topic in swimming circles.
Marchand said it’s certainly on his mind in the lead-up to the 2023 World Championships.
“I definitely think about it,” he said. “I feel like if I want to achieve everything I want to achieve, I have to go through this (record).
“At Worlds, it will be the first day and I will be super fresh. Now that record is in the back of my mind. It would be awesome to do that. To think that no one has swum faster on the planet. This is Michael’s (Phelps) oldest record, the only one he has left. Poor guy… (he smiles).
“In 2008, I didn’t really watch swimming (he was six years old). Since then, I have seen this race a billion times on YouTube. But not recently, not since I left for the United States.”
Does he ever think about going sub-4:00?
“It’s confidential (he laughs). I just want to do my best. In Chicago (at the Westmont Pro Swim), I swam 4:07, and I can be a lot faster.”
When asked about the possibility of lowering Ryan Lochte‘s 200 IM world record of 1:54.00, set in 2011, Marchand acknowledged he’s still got a lot of work to do to get down to that mark, but definitely belives he can join Lochte and Phelps in becoming the third man sub-1:55 this summer.
“A second and a half separates me from it, but I haven’t yet realized the time that represents my (ability) in the 200 IM,” he said. “Last year’s 400 IM was already well done, but not the 1:55.22. I think I can swim 1:54-something. After (that), 1:54.00, it’s something else again. We have three months.”
WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP SCHEDULE
Marchand said he will swim the same three events he did in Budapest this summer in Fukuoka: 200 fly, 200 IM, 400 IM.
He said that while he wants to do the 200 breaststroke, coach Bob Bowman is advising against it given the proximity of the 200 breast semis and the 200 IM final.
“Me, I’d love to do it, but Bob doesn’t want to,” Marchand said of the 200 breast. “I will do it at the French Championships and keep it for the Paris Games.”
In Fukuoka, the 200 breast semis come directly before the 200 IM final. However, in Paris, the two events won’t have any scheduling conflicts.
NCAA SEASON & TRAINING
Marchand spoke at length about his training situation in Tempe, first diving into his progression over the course of this past NCAA season that ultimately led to a history-making NCAA performance.
Marchand said he took an extended break after the 2022 World Championships, including skipping the European Championships, in preparation for what he knew would be a long training haul with the collegiate season followed directly by the long course championships in the summer.
“I wanted to take my time, concentrate on my studies by resuming swimming quietly until December,” he said.
Marchand said he really picked things up during winter training in December, doing 9-10 weekly sessions during the school break while also dialing his nutrition, hydration and recovery to a more “professional” level.
Other NCAA Notes
- Marchand called his 200 free split on the 800 free relay at NCAAs, where he recorded the fastest split ever in 1:28.42, the best race of his life. “I felt like I was flying,” he said.
- He also said he fell ill and was dealing with a fever on the day of the 200 breast, despite ultimately setting a new NCAA and U.S. Open Record of 1:46.91. “I was dead but I told myself to push for the last race. In terms of sensations, it was horrible.”
- Asked about his backstroke improvement, Marchand said it’s more about his ability on the underwaters and how the momentum from them allows him to maintain a high temp in the short course pool, though he did say “backstroke is no longer my weak stroke.”
Coming off NCAAs, Marchand competed at the Westmont Pro Swim, and said once again he was feeling under the weather.
“I was a bit afraid of losing my confidence, because I didn’t feel well,” he said, adding that they were in the midst of heavy training and he had been sick.
He said he couldn’t opt out because it was his only scheduled competition prior to the French Elite Championships, which will run June 10-15.
“In the end, it gave me a big confidence boost,” he said, having gone four-for-four by winning the 200 breast, 200 fly, 200 IM and 400 IM in Westmont.
“Even in bad conditions, I can swim fast and win,” he said. “Like in the 200 breaststroke where I am fourth at the last turn. I had no more legs but I said to myself: ‘This one, I can’t lose it.'”
NEW TRAINING PARTNERS
Marchand also spoke on what it’s been like to train with some of the swimmers who have joined Bowman at ASU since his arrival in the fall of 2021, including the reigning Olympic champion in the 400 IM, Chase Kalisz, and 2022 European 200 IM champion Hubert Kos.
“It’s really a bonus to have them in training,” Marchand said. “Chase is consistent in the breaststroke, Hubert has incredible speed in the fly. There is always someone to hold me on each stroke. And, above all, I get on very well with them.”
He also joked about world champion Regan Smith out-splitting him and Kalisz on certain backstroke sets.
“In training, you have to watch out for her,” Marchand said of Smith. “The day you’re not in top form on back, you’re going to blow yourself up straight away.
“The other day, we had a series with 50s of backstroke fast. I was fine, splitting 28.7s, and I’m happy with myself. Regan is often in my line, she touches the wall and I hear 28.3. We look at each other with Chase, who had swum 29.”
DISTANCING HIMSELF FROM THE PRESSURE
Marchand said training at ASU is the ideal place for him for a number of reasons, but one of the keys is the fact that he can stay in his own little bubble and not get caught up with the heightened expectations of him back home.
“Last year, I was able to get used to my new life discreetly. I remain quiet, but I no longer go unnoticed.
“I see stuff on Twitter, I get messages. But what’s good here is that I’m far from France, and I don’t really realize the scope of what I’m doing,” he said.
“Just that people are interested in what’s going on here when basically they have no idea. It’s pretty cool.”
Marchand said things are often hectic given that he’s a full-time student to go along with his busy training schedule.
“It’s (intense) to have to catch up on homework during competitions and in periods when we really load up in training. But my studies interest me so much,” he said, specifying that as a computer science major, his current focus is on C++ programming.
Despite the hecticness of it all, he’s loving every second.
“I know why I’m doing all this,” he said. “My life is perfect as it is.”