Selected at the last minute, a novice at the Olympic Games, an atypical size and a hitherto virgin record: at 24, Romain Cannone caused a sensation on Sunday by winning the épée tournament, synonymous with the first Olympic title for the French delegation in Tokyo.
Winner in the final of the 2019 world champion, the Hungarian Gergely Siklosi, 15 touches to 10, Cannone flew over the day to become the first French Olympic champion in épée since Eric Srecki in 1992 and to offer French fencing his first individual title since the foilist Brice Guyart in 2004 in Athens.
"I didn't ask myself any questions, I really enjoyed the day", the new Olympic epee champion told France Televisions after his victory.
"We must play, we must not shut ourselves away, we must + enjoy +, we must create, the more we play, the more we have fun, the more we have fun. I even had fun all day," a insisted the youngest of the French team in twirling fencing.
We were waiting for the experience, in the guise of Yannick Borel, world champion in 2018, but it is the youth who shone thanks to "Pano", alias Romain Canonne, thus nicknamed by his teammates in reference to Peter Pan and his side "naive".
An innocence that he masterfully swept away by eliminating among other things on his way to the title, while serenity and control, nothing less than the Venezuelan Ruben Limardo Gascon, Olympic champion in London in 2012, and the Russian competing under neutral banner Sergey Bida, vice-world champion in 2019.
- "Champagne fencing!"
According to his teammates, Cannone does not come out of nowhere: since the start of the preparation, "we felt he had it under his feet", explained the leader of the Blues Yannick Borel who, in the stands, has not stopped encouraging him.
For Brice Guyart, now a television consultant, "he's more of a shooter we expected in 2024, but who, in a competition like this, shows tactical maturity in his game: he knows how to apply the instructions very well. , to impose a rhythm on his opponent, it is always him who is in the maneuver on the displacements ".
"As soon as he feels that he is on the rhythm of the other, he corrects, he does dry cleaning ...", he adds, also saluting "blows that come out of nowhere: it is a champagne fencing! ".
The surprise is all the more beautiful as Cannone, trained in the United States, owed his selection only to the ousting at the last moment of the experienced Daniel Jérent (Olympic champion 2016 and world champion 2014, 2017 and 2019), to respond to an anti-doping summons.
On this double American / French formation, his teammate Ronan Gustin, replacing in Tokyo, explains that in the United States, "we taught him to repeat strokes, we taught him to build touches".
"Very flexible, very elastic, with a very good flexibility and power (...), it makes great use of its agility and its mobility and at the same time, it goes very far", adds Brice Guyart, who is said "very impressed", referring to a shooter with "a good mix between instinct, vista and a tactical scheme, decided before but who can evolve if things do not go well".
- Borel disappointed but lucid -
Finally, the big advantage over this Cannone tournament is that his opponents did not know him very well, believes Brice Guyart: "he surprises them, and then it's so well executed, it goes so fast that it's difficult to + read + ".
He is also "capable of doing everything: one touch on the foot then the next one, to go higher, so it's quite confusing and surprising. We don't know where it will end up and what's more, it's fine. arrive quickly, ”he concludes.
As for Yannick Borel, who was aiming for an individual Olympic title after winning team gold at Rio-2016, he was surprised by his opponent in the first round, Mohamed Elsayed, an 18-year-old Egyptian.
"I have no excuses, I can't even say that I had a good match," breathed, very disappointed but lucid, the 32-year-old Guadeloupe, acknowledging that his opponent had been "intelligent", " unlike me, ”he said.
The foilists on the track on Sunday, Ysaora Thibus, Pauline Ranvier and Anita Blaze, also had a bad time and will have the opportunity to redeem themselves on Thursday, during the team competition.
© 2021 AFP