Camille, French swimming’s lost star
The winner of three medals at London 2012, including gold in the 400m freestyle, French swimmer Camille Muffat retired from competition at the age of 24 before tragically losing her life in a helicopter crash in March 2015.
Beating the boys
Born in Nice, Camille Muffat spent her childhood years dreaming of Olympic glory. At the age of 12 she teamed up with swimming coach Fabrice Pellerin, the man who would eventually take her to the top of the sport. Discussing Pellerin’s approach to coaching in April 2012, Muffat said: “Fabrice is hard on the girls. He keeps telling us to move and to close the gap on the boys. The time gap over 400m can be anything up to 20 seconds, and he tells us to keep it down as much as possible. It makes the boys laugh. They don’t like the girls going quicker. But I take the challenge on and it does pull us along, even if it makes your head spin sometimes.”
From medley to freestyle
Muffat began her competitive career as a medley specialist, dominating the discipline at domestic level. After earning her first European Championship medals, she made the French team for Beijing 2008 at the age of 18, competing in the 200m medley, the 400m medley and the 4x200m freestyle and finishing 12th, 19th and fifth respectively. Lamenting the fact that the medley lacked the status of other events, she said: “Pellerin asked me to make a choice. I said to myself that I wouldn’t go very far with the medley and that it was time I stuck to the front crawl.”
Her decision to make the switch was vindicated a few months later when she won the world 200m short course title in Dubai in December 2010. Stepping up her training regime, Muffat vowed to push on and set the fastest 200m and 400m times in the world in 2012.
“There’s a massive difference between getting to Olympic finals but no further, and what I’ve managed to achieve in the last year and a half,” she said in the lead-up to London 2012. “We’re doing more kilometres in the pool now, more training and three weights sessions a week. I can see that it really is a different level. When I’m training, I notice that there are only one or two other girls who can do I what I do. That’s what makes me want to keep going every day.”
In among the medals
Muffat’s hard work paid off in the 400m final at London 2012. Dominating the race from start to finish, she posted a new Olympic record of 4:01.45 to win gold from Allison Schmitt of the USA and Great Britain’s Rebecca Adlington. In doing so, Muffat became France’s fourth Olympic swimming champion, following in the footsteps of Jean Boiteux at Helsinki 1952, Laure Manaudou at Athens 2004 (both of whom won 400m freestyle golds) and Alain Bernard at Beijing 2008, in the 100m freestyle.
Two days later Muffat held off Australia’s Bronte Barratt, the USA’s Missy Franklin and Federica Pellegrini of Italy to take silver behind runaway winner Schmitt in the 200m freestyle. The very next day, the Frenchwoman joined forces with Charlotte Bonnet, Ophélie-Cyrielle Etienne and Coralie Balmy to win bronze in the 4x200m freestyle final behind the Americans and the Australians. In doing so, she become only the third French female athlete to win three Olympic medals at the same Games, matching the achievement of track and field star Micheline Ostermeyer at Helsinki 1952 and Manaudou at Athens 2004.
A dark day for sport
Further bronze medals came Muffat’s way in the 200m and 4x200m freestyle at the 2013 FINA World Aquatics Championships in Barcelona. Then, on 12 July 2014, she announced that she would be retiring from competitive swimming. “I’ve done everything I dreamed of doing,” said the 24 year old, in explaining her decision. In early March 2015, Muffat travelled to Argentina to appear in a TV reality show starring a number of top French athletes. The sporting world was plunged into mourning a few days later, when she was killed in a helicopter crash that claimed the lives of nine other people, among them the yachtswoman Florence Arthaud and Alexis Vastine, who won a bronze in the boxing at Beijing 2008.