Tokyo (AFP)

Nine years after his surprise Olympic coronation, Florent Manaudou once again proved his taste for a challenge by winning silver in the 50m at the Tokyo Games, less than two and a half years after his return to swimming.

"I quit, I came back, I think there are 95% of people who did not believe in me, it boosted me too. I like that, me", smiles, his medal around the cou, the now three-time Olympic one-way medalist (gold in 2012, silver in 2016 and 2021), who has become only the third swimmer in history to achieve this performance, after Alexander Popov and Gary Hall.

With four Olympic medals - in five finals -, adding the shared money of the men's 4x100m in 2016, Manaudou joined, at 30, Alain Bernard as the blue swimmer most often awarded at the Olympics.

This is not the first time that the youngest of the Manaudou siblings, from Ambérieu-en-Bugey (Ain), surprises his world.

At the 2012 Olympics in London, he made a spectacular name for himself, he the little brother of Laure, icon of French swimming, by offering himself the 50m from row 7, at the age of 21 and only one year after his first selection in blue.

- Reconstruction in two years -

Apart from his disappointing 2013 Worlds (5th in the 50m, 8th in the 50m butterfly), he then established his domination on the hyper sprint, with four European titles in 2014 (50m, 100m, 50m butterfly and 4x100 m), followed by three world crowns in 2015 (50m, 50m butterfly and 4x100m).

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"Since I was little, I have always been determined. When I wanted something, I had it. I used every subterfuge to", then confided the sprinter of CN Marseille to AFP.

But the 2016 Olympics do not smile on him as much as he hoped: over 50 m - for a hundredth - as over 4x100 m, he has to be content with silver where he was looking for gold.

These Rio Games, Manaudou saw them "rather badly", he says with hindsight.

"I always swam at the end of the program and the atmosphere of a team can bring a lot. In London, the 4x100 m wins, Camille (Muffat) and Yannick (Agnel) win, there is the medal of the 4x200 m women , an emulation is created and we say to ourselves that it is possible. In Rio, it was totally the opposite. "

So that the Olympics-2016 ended, he decided to leave the pools and started handball with Aix-en-Provence.

Until launching one more challenge in the spring of 2019: to plunge again, fifteen months before the Olympics-2020, finally one more year with the pandemic, with the mad ambition to regain Olympic gold.

We had to rebuild a swimmer's body, he that the hand made "stronger in the legs", but less "elastic" at the joints.

- "Much happier" -

Relocated to Marseille full time in 2021, where he lives with Danish swimmer Pernille Blume, herself bronze medalist in the 50m on Friday, Manaudou is reorienting his training there, less focused on strength, and lightens up by ten of kilos (between 99 and 100).

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"What is accompanied by a big weight gain is a big power gain", decrypts his trainer Julien Jacquier.

"Several times, we saw errors in his 50m, tension, the inability to finish his races. A lot of strength and tempo right away" when, on the contrary, "you have to step up".

It was also necessary to recover from a series of frustrating competitions in the home stretch before Tokyo, with a time that refused to go down.

Despite everything, "I am much happier in my life now", estimated Manaudou a few weeks before the Olympics.

"I built a cocoon, I am surrounded by my friends, something very important to me, and not only focused on a goal and training," he continued.

"I'm more relaxed, I no longer need to win at any cost, he added. Before, I put more pressure on myself. I was almost undefeated between 2012 and 2016 and I arrived with a lot of pressure on the shoulders. There, it's different, I'm far from being the best on paper. "

In the Olympic basin, on the other hand, not so far away.

© 2021 AFP