From swimming to pentathlon: Elodie Clouvel’s rise to the top

Silver medallist Elodie Clouvel of France poses on the podium during the medal ceremony for the Women's Modern Pentathlon at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
Silver medallist Elodie Clouvel of France poses on the podium during the medal ceremony for the Women's Modern Pentathlon at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

After failing to qualify for swimming at Beijing 2008, Elodie Clouvel switched to modern pentathlon. It was a radical change that led the French athlete to silver at Rio 2016. Now aged 31, the star has her eyes set on achieving gold next year.

When Elodie Clouvel secured silver at Rio 2016, just eight years had passed since she first discovered modern pentathlon - a discipline that combines fencing, swimming, equestrian, shooting and running.

Clouvel began to dream about the Olympics after watching her compatriot Laure Manaudou win the 400m freestyle in Athens 2004, and by the age of 18, she stood among the top 20 French 200m and 400m freestyle swimmers.

She even trained for a year with Philippe Lucas - the widely-acclaimed former coach of her idol Manaudou. Her goal was to make the cut for Beijing 2008 and although her passion was in the pool, Clouvel's results were not good enough to secure her ticket to the People's Republic of China.

"I decided to restart from square one," Clouvel told Tokyo 2020.

"The French Modern Pentathlon Federation spotted me and I joined National Institute of Sport, Expertise, and Performance (INSEP) in September 2008. I accepted this new challenge and the new goal was to qualify for London 2012 - after only three and a half years' of practice."

Elodie Clouvel: 'Modern pentathlon is like a chess game'
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Shooting, fencing and equestrian debuts

Clouvel qualified for London 2012 and finished 31st in the modern pentathlon. It was an outstanding achievement.

Three years before, she had never fired a gun, never touched a sword and equestrian was more an holiday activity than a job. But it would eventually become one.

Her incredible rise to the top could not have been possible without a constant desire to learn.

"As soon as I started, I loved it," she said.

"I was discovering fencing, shooting and equestrian and I loved to learn those new sports and the necessity to constantly adapt ourselves."

Olympic chess

Today, Elodie Clouvel feels fully acclimatised to her daily routine of training for five sports - and she could never return to just swimming.

"I can’t see myself doing only one sport," she explained.

"I love swimming, but doing many sports in a single day gives me a real balance. We do five sports, but we are also doing other disciplines like cycling to improve ourselves... to work on cardio but in a different way."

Clouvel says the diverse range of sports she competes in is similar to her approach to playing chess.

"It’s like a chess match - super strategic and you can not afford to give up, all day long. It’s full of twists and there is always a chance to claim victory."

"You need to hang on."

Our goal? Two gold medals.

One for Valentin and one for me.

Changes for gold

After Rio 2016, where Clouvel claimed silver - the first Olympic French Modern Pentathlon medal - she has been resetting her targets.

Alongside Valentin Belaud, her partner and reigning men's modern pentathlon champion, the goal for Tokyo 2020 is simple.

"Two gold medals. One for Valentin and one for me."

To become the new golden couple, after French boxers Tony Yoka and Estelle Mossely in Rio 2016, Elodie and Valentin have rebuilt their team.

"When you are Olympic medallist or world champion, one important thing is to reevaluate and search for best."

"We needed change, to rebuild our team and define a new system that we like. We now have a new team with new coaches."

"We are so different in training but we understand each other well"

Alongside having specific coaches in each discipline, Clouvel and her partner decided to work with Meriem Salmi - a psychologist who works with French champions including Teddy Riner.

They also added dance coach Armelle Van Eecloo to their team. It was an original idea.

"This is a very important part of the job that allows us to get the right gestures, to be smooth in our moves and be free-flowing in everything we do."

"We are trying to adapt the postures to suit us personally, in every discipline.

"We are so different in training but we understand each other well. We pull ourselves to the top. Our differences is our strengths. In swimming, I can help him and he does so in equestrian and running. We are going to try to keep this nice harmony and energy until Tokyo in 2021!"

With the recent announcement of the competition schedule, they now have fixed appointments: 6 August 2021 for Clouvel and 7 August 2021 for Belaud.