Three finals to enter Olympic history: the Blues of basketball, handball and volleyball, in order of appearance on the screen of this gargantuan Saturday for French team sports in Tokyo, must surpass three giants of their discipline to achieve an unprecedented and resounding treble.
At the end of two weeks of ballooning, France can go where no nation has ever been to the Olympic Games, not even the United States, Yugoslavia or the USSR or their Serbian, Croatian or Russian emanations.
To become the first to win the three Olympic titles in indoor "co" sports during the same edition of the Olympics, the Blues have on their menu the United States and their NBA stars for basketball players (11:30 am local, 4:30 am French ), Danish ogres for handball players (9:00 p.m. local, 2:00 p.m. French) and Russian giants for volleyball players (9:15 p.m. local, 2:15 p.m. French).
This triptych of finals begins very early, for basketball players, at an incongruous schedule for an Olympic final, imposed by the American broadcaster NBC.
Facing Rudy Gobert, Evan Fournier and their teammates, "Team USA" remains the benchmark basketball team even if it is deprived of its most high-sounding names like LeBron James and Stephen Curry.
For their third Olympic final after 1948 and 2000, for two failures suffered against ... United States, the Blues are still not favorites, but they are no longer any complex.
- 14th in Euro-2020 -
And for good reason, they beat "Team USA" less than two weeks ago at the opening of their Olympic tournament (83-76).
A success which confirmed that even more resounding of the quarter-finals of the World-2019 (89-79).
"The dream is to win the Olympics against the United States", summarized Fournier who elbows daily on the NBA floors with Kevin Durant, Damian Lillard and Devin Booker.
"It's been two years (since the World Cup-2019) that they are preparing for us apparently and the fact of having already beaten them in the pool, it will be worse," he warned after the semi-final won on the wire against Slovenia by Luka Doncic (90-89).
The challenge that awaits the Blues is enough to make your head spin: in 18 participations in the Games, the Americans have been crowned fifteen times and only one team, the USSR, beat them in a final, in 1972 in Munich.
The French handball players are used to being familiar with Olympus: they play their fourth Olympic final in a row on Saturday and their leader Nikola Karabatic dreams of securing a third title after 2008 and 2012.
French handball player Nikola Karabatic during the semi-finals of the Tokyo Olympic Games between France and Egypt on August 5, 2021 Fabrice COFFRINI AFP
The Blues have come a long way: they finished Euro 2020 in a pitiful 14th place, a tournament that cost Didier Dinart his place, replaced by Guillaume Gille.
Under the impetus of the double Olympic champion, the French hand has resumed its place in the foreground on the international scene (4th in the World Cup-2021).
They have one last duel left to confirm: "What awaits us is perhaps still the most difficult", warns Gille.
Double world champions (2021 and 2019), the Danes have reigned over handball since the Rio Games and only the Spaniards have managed to slip into the charts since (during the Euro 2018 and 2020).
- "We surprise ourselves" -
The Blues also find an old acquaintance: Mikkel Hansen, the star of PSG who has already scored 52 goals in Tokyo.
In the semifinals, he disgusted the Spaniards with 12 goals (75%).
The same total as that inflicted on France at the World-2019, where the Danes had then crushed the Blues in the semi-finals (38-30).
The most unexpected final, and paradoxically perhaps the most open, is that of the volleyball players who have long suffered in this Olympic tournament with a worrying 4th place at the end of the group stage.
But the players of Laurent Tillie, who is playing his last match as a coach, then surprised the Polish world champions (3-2) in the quarter-final and outclassed Argentina (3-0) in the semi-final.
The French volleyball team after their victory in the semi-finals of the Tokyo Olympic Games against Argentina on August 5, 2021 Yuri Cortez AFP
Earvin Ngapeth's gang have already beaten their final opponent Russia in Tokyo (3-1 in a group match) and are approaching this final against the 2012 Olympic champions with optimism.
"We do things we are not used to seeing in volleyball. We surprise ourselves sometimes. This is the essence of our team," warned Jean Patry.
If three more medals are already assured to the French delegation which officially has 27 for the moment, this Saturday can bring other podiums.
Less than 24 hours after their defeat against the Japanese, the French basketball players can console themselves with a bronze medal by beating Serbia (4:00 p.m. local, 9:00 a.m. French).
The pentathletes (7:30 p.m. local, 12:30 p.m. French) and the French show jumping team, reigning Olympic champion, (7:00 p.m. local, 12:00 p.m. French) also have strong arguments to participate in this Saturday which could be historic.
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