Florent Manaudou, France’s swimming icon, eyes one last Olympic splash and dash

Florent Manaudou

PONTE VEDRA, Florida — Florent Manaudou is training another two years in hopes that his Olympic career, which already includes a gold medal and three silvers, lasts about 64 more seconds in the swimming pool.

Manaudou, a 6-foot-6, 220-pound sprinter, took surprise gold in the 50m freestyle at the 2012 Olympics, then silver in 2016 and 2021 in the event dubbed the splash and dash.

“My body’s quite tired at the moment,” Manaudou, 31, said in a sitdown interview while in Florida for the Jax50 competition last week. “I cannot do the same things in the water [as in the past]. I cannot work the same way. And so I have to find the pathways to swim fast. But it’s difficult.”

The 50m free, an often breathless dance of maintaining technique while maximizing power, takes 21 seconds. Factor in rounds of preliminary heats, semifinals and the final, and it’s a little more than a minute of competition total at the Games for the athletes who specialize in it.

Manaudou said he probably would have retired after Tokyo, where he was runner-up to Caeleb Dressel, if not for what happened in the summer of 2017. Paris was awarded the 2024 Olympics.

Now, Manaudou will attempt to become the oldest French swimmer to win an Olympic medal, and one of the oldest French swimmers to ever compete at the Games, according to Olympedia.org.

Should he qualify in two years, he plans to make it his final competition in a 50-meter pool. He may hang on for short-course racing.

Manaudou, once labeled “the swimmer who doesn’t like to swim,” has a few goals between now and then. He would love to be an Opening Ceremony flagbearer on the Seine River after coming close to receiving the honor from his fellow athletes in Tokyo.

In the pool, he would like to set a personal best, which he has not done since 2015. He would like to stand on top of a podium and hear the national anthem, which he has not done since 2016.

“I want to feel that I’m better than before,” he said. “And not just my feeling, but also in the water.”

That rarely happens for swimmers in their 30s. But of all the events, it’s most likely in the 50m free, the shortest race on the program. Experience, mechanics and acumen come into play where medals are decided by the smallest margins.

In 2016, Manaudou took silver, one hundredth of a second behind 35-year-old American Anthony Ervin, who like Manaudou later did, left the sport for years. Dara Torres came back from two long breaks to earn 50m silver at age 41 in 2008, also one hundredth of a second shy of gold. She joked that she shouldn’t have filed her nails before the race.

Years ago, Michael Phelps‘ mom called on the 28-time medalist to come back for a quick event, like the 50m or 100m free.

Manaudou’s fiancee knows the required mentality. Denmark’s Pernille Blume took 50m gold by two hundredths over Simone Manuel in 2016, after swimming thousands of meters, day after day for four years, with the primary end goal being a 24-second Olympic final.

“I guess when you put it that way, it makes it sound a bit crazy, you know, crazy people doing this,” she said. “At the same time, I like the intensity. Sprinting is being aware of what you’re doing at all times.”

Recent Olympics have not been kind to legends trying to squeeze out one more Games to compete at home.

In 2016, the chest-slapping Cesar Cielo, a former rival of Manaudou’s, missed the Brazilian Olympic team by nine hundredths in the 50m free and was in tears afterward.

Japanese wrestler Kaori Icho, a gold medalist in 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2016, did not qualify for the Tokyo Games.

At the moment, Manaudou has less internal competition for an Olympic spot. A nation can send a maximum of two swimmers to the Olympics in an individual event. and Manaudou is one of two Frenchmen in the world’s top 50 in the 50m free this year.

Manaudou could swim a second event at the 2024 Olympics — the 4x100m freestyle relay. France memorably took silver in 2008 (behind American Jason Lezak‘s anchor), then gold in 2012 (Yannick Agnel ran down Ryan Lochte) and silver in 2016 before dropping to sixth last year.

Manaudou was part of the final quartet at the last two Olympics, but he prefers that a better team be fielded without him in 2024.

“I’m not a 100m swimmer,” he said. “I’m here to help. If I’m faster than other guys, of course, I’m going to swim it. But I really hope that young French swimmers are faster than me. If I’m in the relay, it means that it’s going to be difficult to have the medal.”

In France, the pinnacle sports moments are associated with those more or less representing their country, within the country, more than a club. Everyone remembers where he or she was when the men’s soccer team won the 1998 World Cup final in Paris, said Manaudou, who was a 7-year-old growing up near Lyon at the time.

Yannick Noah winning the 1983 French Open. Alpine skier Jean-Claude Killy‘s three golds at the 1968 Grenoble Winter Games. In 1894, Frenchman Pierre de Coubertin led the re-establishment of the Olympic Games at a congress at the Sorbonne in Paris.

In 2004, Manaudou’s older sister, Laure, authored another one, but in Athens, becoming the first Frenchwoman to win an Olympic swimming title (at age 17). Manaudou noted that happened on a national holiday, live on primetime TV. A French magazine then offered to fly the family to Greece for Laure’s final races of the Games. Her fame was compared to that of soccer star Zinedine Zidane.

“If you’re good, you’re kind of a swimming god in France,” Manaudou said. “But if you lose, you’re like shit, so you have this kind of pressure around you. And you’re more focused on the result than swimming.”

So Manaudou had a unique perspective on Dressel. The Frenchman specifically remembers seeing the look on the American’s face after his first individual Olympic gold in the 100m free.

“I was like, this guy is living a hard time with all the pressure,” Manaudou said, noting the four years after Dressel’s first world title in 2017. “Everyone was waiting for him to win all these races, and of course, he’s a good swimmer, and he’s the best in the 50m, 100m [freestyles] and 100m fly. But when you have to win on the day, it’s different.”

Even with his goals, Manaudou stressed enjoying the lead-up to Paris. Afterward, he may go back to handball. He left swimming after the Rio Games to play professionally, then returned to the pool because he missed it.

“When you run, when you bike, when you swim, you’re focused on having pain in your body,” he said. “When you do a team sport, it’s different.”

He may continue to live the fast life. Manaudou dreams of skydiving. He has driven five different Porsches, including his dream car, the 964 Turbo made famous in the 1995 film “Bad Boys.”

“I cannot just lay on my couch and watch TV,” said Manaudou, who was once given the nickname Lazy Boy to describe his affinity for training. “I need to feel alive.”

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Joel Embiid gains U.S. citizenship, mum on Olympic nationality

Joel Embiid

Philadelphia 76ers All-Star center Joel Embiid said he is now a U.S. citizen and it’s way too early to think about what nation he would represent at the Olympics.

“I just want to be healthy and win a championship and go from there,” he said, according to The Associated Press.

Embiid, 28, was born in Cameroon and has never competed in a major international tournament. In July, he gained French nationality, a step toward being able to represent that nation at the 2024 Paris Olympics.

In the spring, French media reported that Embiid started the process to become eligible to represent France in international basketball, quoting national team general manager Boris Diaw.

Embiid was second in NBA MVP voting this season behind Serbian Nikola Jokic. He was the All-NBA second team center.

What nation Embiid represents could have a major impact on the Paris Games.

In Tokyo, a French team led by another center, Rudy Gobert, handed the U.S. its first Olympic defeat since 2004. That was in group play. The Americans then beat the French in the gold-medal game 87-82.

That France team had five NBA players to the U.S.’ 12: Nicolas BatumEvan FournierTimothe Luwawu-CabarrotFrank Ntilikina and Gobert.

Anthony Davis, who skipped the Tokyo Olympics, is the lone U.S. center to make an All-NBA team in the last five seasons. In that time, Embiid made four All-NBA second teams and Gobert made three All-NBA third teams.

No Olympic team other than the U.S. has ever had two reigning All-NBA players on its roster.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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LA 2028, Delta unveil first-of-its-kind emblems for Olympics, Paralympics

Delta LA 2028
LA 2028

Emblems for the 2028 Los Angeles Games that include logos of Delta Air Lines is the first integration of its kind in Olympic and Paralympic history.

Organizers released the latest set of emblems for the LA 2028 Olympics and Paralympics on Thursday, each with a Delta symbol occupying the “A” spot in LA 28.

Two years ago, the LA 2028 logo concept was unveiled with an ever-changing “A” that allowed for infinite possibilities. Many athletes already created their own logos, as has NBC.

“You can make your own,” LA28 chairperson Casey Wasserman said in 2020. “There’s not one way to represent Los Angeles, and there is strength in our diverse cultures. We have to represent the creativity and imagination of Los Angeles, the diversity of our community and the big dreams the Olympic and Paralympic Games provide.”

Also in 2020, Delta was announced as LA 2028’s inaugural founding partner. Becoming the first partner to have an integrated LA 2028 emblem was “extremely important for us,” said Emmakate Young, Delta’s managing director, brand marketing and sponsorships.

“It is a symbol of our partnership with LA, our commitment to the people there, as well as those who come through LA, and a commitment to the Olympics,” she said.

The ever-changing emblem succeeds an angelic bid logo unveiled in February 2016 when the city was going for the 2024 Games, along with the slogan, “Follow the Sun.” In July 2017, the IOC made a historic double awarding of the Olympics and Paralympics — to Paris for 2024 and Los Angeles for 2028.

The U.S. will host its first Olympics and Paralympics since 2002 (and first Summer Games since 1996), ending its longest drought between hosting the Games since the 28-year gap between 1932 and 1960.

Delta began an eight-year Olympic partnership in 2021, becoming the official airline of Team USA and the 2028 Los Angeles Games.

Athletes flew to this year’s Winter Games in Beijing on chartered Delta flights and will do so for every Games through at least 2028.

Previously, Delta sponsored the last two Olympics held in the U.S. — the 1996 Atlanta Games and the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games.

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