Florent Manaudou: "I am no longer the hunted, but the hunter"

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - DECEMBER 07: Florent Manaudou of France competes in the heats of the Men's 50m Butterfly during day four of the LEN European Short Course Swimming Championships at Tollcross International Swimming Centre on December 07, 2019 in Glasgow, Scotland.
GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - DECEMBER 07: Florent Manaudou of France competes in the heats of the Men's 50m Butterfly during day four of the LEN European Short Course Swimming Championships at Tollcross International Swimming Centre on December 07, 2019 in Glasgow, Scotland.

Three-time Olympic swimming medallist Florent Manaudou is having fun and says Tokyo is not the end of the road - whether he wins or not

Florent Manaudou is going nowhere fast.

The London 2012 Olympic champion and Rio 2016 double silver medallist has been back in the pool for over a year and rediscovered his joy for swimming.

After the Rio Olympics in 2016 Manaudou fell out of love with swimming and switched sports to play handball, but is now back in his element, training for Tokyo 2020, and says there's life after the Olympics for his swimming career - whether he wins or not.

I will always be a swimmer

Manaudou takes 50m Freestyle gold | London 2012 Replays
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Falling in love with swimming again

After two years in handball, working his way up to France's second division - with a professional contract on the table - scoring 15 goals in 10 appearances in his final season, Manaudou decided that swimming was calling him back.

In November 2018 the Olympic champ was invited to swim at a meet with his old Marseilles club Cercle des Nageurs in Istres and swam a 50m in 20.62s.

But it wasn't just the time that called him back, it was the feeling of being back in the water. Now he's back in training for more Olympic glory at Tokyo 2020, but with a different mindset and a renewed approach.

France's 20 Minutes asked him recently how he's enjoying being back in the pool. "It's not the same kind of fun as handball: there are no balls, no friends, no goals," he replies, "but there is more fun than in my previous [Swimming] career."

"Of the 300 days of the year spent in the water, there are only four or five that are interesting in competition. So if you don't enjoy training it makes life difficult."

But aside from training, the swim star has realised that what he does between sessions may even be more important.

Oreos for Breakfast?

"When you start a week, if you haven't decompressed on the weekend, you won't perform well in the water. For me, anyway. I need to get away, have a drink with my friends."

The article actually starts with the suggestion that the 29-year-old has "oreos for breakfast, and a beer at noon to wash down the chips covered in mayonnaise."

Whether there's any truth or not in that, it is clear that he's happier and enjoying his swimming a lot more after his return to the pool; older, wiser and more self-aware, guarding against the burnout that made him walk away from the sport entirely after Rio 2016.

"With experience, cutting things when I want to cut, talking with my coaches without being closed to my own reading of things, it's easier to avoid that."

Taking part in the International Swimming League has also helped, an exciting new format that sees Olympic sharks in the pool like Caeleb Dressel, Chad Le Clos, and Sarah Sjostrom.

Manaudou swam for the Energy Standard team, playing an integral part in their 2019 title win, and more importantly, loving the competition and the new format.

"It's different, more like a show. With competitions like ISL, we travel, we see things, we meet people and there is less weariness. So, inevitably, burnout is less present."

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Silver at the 2019 European Championships

December 2019 was the perfect litmus test of Manaudou's progress. He had shown some very positive form before that, a 20.77s 50m free in the Indianapolis ISL meet in October for example, a world-leading time.

In December the European Short Course Championships in Glasgow pitted him against the best on the continent.

It was a quietly confident comeback. No big gold medal headlines splashing across France's sports dailies, but plenty of encouraging signs, and plenty of hard data to point to where work needed to be done.

Friday brought silver in the 50m freestyle, and Saturday a fifth place in the final of the 50m butterfly with a bronze medal in the 4x50m mixed relay.

A bronze and a silver isn't a bad return after three years out, but it isn't enough for the uber-competitive Manaudou.

"The hunter not the hunted"

"I almost forgot that I had stopped for three years and it annoys me to be four tenths off my best time," he told L'Equipe after winning the silver charm.

His coach James Gibson, who was with the swimmer for that defining moment at London 2012 said that silver was a step forward; "We are not going to cry over this medal even if obviously we wanted gold," he said.

"But this competition allows him to get back into the process, competing in the heats, semi-finals and finals as at the Games.

For Manaudou himself, he felt fast.

“I had the sensation that I was flying above the water, not in terms of speed, but it was a thrill, I don't feel tense, it feels good," while also acknowledging that he needed time: "I need to swim, to chain races together, work on starts, get that flow back."

One thing was evident, that killer instinct is back.

I am no longer the hunted but the hunter.

"In the morning, I wake up thinking of my opponents who are going faster than me and I want to beat them. It's more motivating than trying to fight against yourself."

"My approach has changed a bit, in the sense that I want to win more than in 2016, I have this animal in me."

How far can swim star Florent Manaudou go as a handball player?
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Florent Manadou: Wife, kids, family first

Manadou is a great athlete, and the desire to make it in handball was genuine back in 2016 - as was the burnout from a demanding swimming lifestyle.

Family has guided his sporting career from the very beginning and he was back following in his father's footsteps again on the handball court, returning to the game which he played until he was 15.

But when a 13-year-old Florent watched his 17-year-old sister Laure win 400m freestyle gold at Athens 2004, suddenly he was inspired again.

“I always wanted to swim faster and to go all the way to the Olympics. But when my sister won her title, it wasn’t so much a case of taking part as wanting to win.”

When he achieved that at London 2012 and looked back on it, he knew that he had his family to thank for much of what got him there.

“I think one of the reasons why I amazed you was because of the childhood I spent in Amberieu with my father, who was a handball player, and my mother, a badminton champion."

"We did a lot of things as a family, and I started my elite swimming career with my brother Nico as my coach.”

Nico Manaudou proved a great coach and his brother found rapid success.

Focussing on freestyle, backstroke, and butterfly sprint events, by 2007 he was national junior 50m freestyle champ and qualified for the 2011 FINA World Championships in Shanghai, where he came fifth in the 50m butterfly final.

In London 2012 with sister Laure cheering on he powered home for gold 0.20 seconds ahead of the USA’s Cullen Jones and defending champion Cesar Cielo of Brazil.

The Manaudou family celebrating together afterwards is an iconic image in swim history.

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 03:  Florent Manaudou of France embraces his sister  Laure Manaudou after winning the MenÂ’s 50m Freestyle Final on Day 7 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Aquatics Centre on August 3, 2012 in London, England.
LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 03: Florent Manaudou of France embraces his sister Laure Manaudou after winning the MenÂ’s 50m Freestyle Final on Day 7 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Aquatics Centre on August 3, 2012 in London, England.
2012 Getty Images (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
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By the Olympic channel.