Laure Manaudou is widely regarded as one of the greatest French swimmers of all time. She first reared her head as a 17 year-old, becoming the first French woman to win an Olympic gold medal in swimming at the 2004 Athens Games. She racked up a total of 3 medals at the Games; gold in the 400m freestyle, silver in the 800m freestyle and bronze in the 100m backstroke.
France coined her as ‘La Sirène’ (The Mermaid) that year, as before the ’04 Games she had also won 3 gold medals at the European Championships in Madrid, Spain. Her winning form continued over the next number of years; resulting in her breaking Janet Evans’ 18 year-old 400m freestyle world record at the 2006 European Championships in Budapest.
2007 World Record Swim and What Followed
This world record-breaking swim added to what was a fantastic run in these championships for Manaudou. Annika Lurz of Germany kept with her pace throughout, but Manaudou’s high stroke-rate and strength off the walls resulted in gold for her here.
In total, Manaudou came away from this event with 5 medals and the WR; 2 gold (400+200 free), 2 silver (100 back+800 free) and a bronze (4x200m freestyle relay).
This year was unfortunately riddled with disruption for Manaudou’s training set up. A month after the Melbourne World Championships, she left her long-time coach Phillipe Lucas to train in Italy. The move came after Manaudou revealed her relationship with Italian swimmer Luca Marin, which fuelled her decision to train in Turin, Italy.
Shortly after her move, Manaudou left the Italian club following a dispute and returned back to France to train under her brother Nicholas, who was also training her younger brother Florent Manaudou at the time.
The following months were tumultuous for Manaudou. Although she managed to post some stellar swims at the European SC Championships in December later that year (winning the 100 back+400 free), her relationship with Marin came to an abrupt end during the meet. An argument resulted in her throwing away her engagement ring that Marin had given to her.
The testing year of 2007, which consisted of her changing coaches twice and her personal life causing difficulties, resulted in a disappointing performance for her at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. She finished 8th in the 400m freestyle, an event where she was defending Olympic champion.
Manaudou announced her retirement in September 2009 after not competing in the World Championships in Rome a few months previous. She made a come-back a couple years later and competed at the 2012 Olympic Games. Her brother winning Olympic gold meant they became the first sibling Olympic champions in the sport.