Just before finals on Day 1 of the 2016 French Elite National Championships and Olympic Trials, beIN Sports, which has the broadcast rights for the meet, showed the Laurent Bouit documentary, “Swimming the French Way.”
The film is a 52-minute homage to the development of French swimmers. It is the third in a series called “Champions Factory” which focuses on one sport and one country per episode. The first two films were entitled, “Champions Factory: Ethiopian Runners” and “Champions Factory: The New Colombian Cyclists” and were also directed by Bouit.
Building on a decade of success, the French Federation is taking a collective approach to detecting and developing the next generation of swimmers who will represent France on the international stage. The film takes the viewer to Paris, Mulhouse, Antibes and Marseille where, along with other cities such as Nice and Toulouse, “poles” of excellence have been created. The film explores the relationship between the coach and the athlete, and between the athlete and the group. It takes us inside a week of national select camp for about 40-50 of France’s most promising boys, as well as poolside with some of France’s most famous coaches. Along the way there are interviews with retired swimmers Alain Bernard and Laure Manaudou. Bernard talks about the role the group plays in this individual sport, how important the other swimmers were to his development; Manaudou says that without Philippe Lucas pushing her, she wouldn’t have gotten out of bed most mornings.
Bernard’s coach, Denis Augier, “one can be Olympic champion for the first time at the age of 28 [editor’s note: he’s talking specifically about Bernard]. That means at 18, there are still 10 years of training to get there.” Augier’s long-term approach is later backed up by Marseille coach Romain Barnier, who explains that the “French touch” is neither the ex-Soviet block mentality of producing champions nor the American model which, he claims, focuses on youth, rather it is more patient, more individual.
Clément Mignon, a young member of the Marseille squad, home to 3/4 of the French men’s team, “You know you belong to this team now, and there’s a sort of emulation that happens, that pushes you to go beyond yourself, to get it done for the team.”