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The younger brother of 2004 Olympic 400m freestyle champion Laure Manaudou, Florent Manaudou followed in her footsteps by winning 50m freestyle gold at London 2012. After enjoying further success at world and European long- and short-course meets, he collected a pair of silvers at Rio 2016 before retiring from swimming to devote his energies to handball.
“Everyone thinks I was born on 3 August 2012, but that’s not the case at all,” wrote Florent Manaudou in his blog, referring to his 50m freestyle win at the London Games. “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.”
Four years younger than his sister Laure, Florent was 13 when he watched her win 400m freestyle gold at Athens 2004. “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,” he added.
Under the watchful eye of his big brother, Manaudou threw himself into his training programme, devoting his energies to the freestyle, backstroke and butterfly sprint events. He continued to make rapid progress after joining the Marseille club Cercle des Nageurs, winning the national junior 50m freestyle title in 2007 and then qualifying for the 2011 FINA World Championships in Shanghai, where he came fifth in the 50m butterfly final. Then, in March 2012, he earned a ticket to the London Games after placing second in the 50m freestyle at the French trials in Dunkirk.
Lining up in lane seven for the Olympic final in London and cheered on from the stands by sister Laure, Manaudou turned on the power to lead from start to finish and win by a comfortable 0.20 seconds from the USA’s Cullen Jones and defending champion Cesar Cielo of Brazil.
The scene of the Manadou siblings enjoying a celebratory hug afterwards proved to be one of the most moving moments of the entire Games.
Manaudou followed up his Olympic triumph with a string of titles, teaming up with compatriots Yannick Agnel, Jeremy Stravius and Fabien Gilot to win the world the 4x100m freestyle relay crown in Barcelona in 2013 and then helping himself to golds in the 50m butterfly and 50m, 100m and 4x100m freestyle events at the 2014 European Championships in Berlin.
He went on to win six medals at the 2014 FINA Short Course World Championships in Doha. His winning times of 20.26 seconds in the 50m freestyle and 20.22 seconds in the 50m backstroke were new world records, while he contributed to a new European record of 3:3.78 as France won gold in the 4x100m freestyle. For good measure, he collected silvers in the 100m freestyle and the 4x50m medley and a bronze in the 4x100m medley.
“I feel like I’ve achieved my childhood dream, but I still have a lot of challenges to fulfil before I can say I’m a swimming champion,” Manaudou said at the end of 2014. The following year he went on to win his first two individual long-course world titles in Kazan (RUS), and in some style too, claiming the 50m freestyle title in 21.19 and the 50m butterfly in 22.84, both personal bests and both the fastest times of the year. He then teamed up with Mehdy Metella, Gilot and Stravius to collect a second 4x100m freestyle relay gold.
Manaudou’s three wins made him the most successful male swimmer of the 2015 Worlds, and further success came his way at the 2016 European Championships in London, where he picked up three more medals: gold in the 50m freestyle and the 4x100m freestyle relay – with France continuing its unbeaten run in the event since London 2012 – and silver in the 4x100m medley.
France’s domination of the 4x100m freestyle came to an end at Rio 2016, with Michael Phelps swimming a stunning second leg to set the USA on the way to gold, with a French quartet featuring Manaudou as the third man out coming in 0.61 seconds behind in second and Australia taking third.
Four days after that disappointment, the Frenchman set about defending his 50m freestyle crown, laying down a marker in the semis by clocking 21.32, the fastest time of the year. In the final, however, Manaudou was just beaten to the touch by USA veteran Anthony Ervin, a gold medallist in the event at Sydney 2000. Reacting to his second silver of the Games, a dejected Manaudou said: “I came here to win, but sport is sometimes about defeat. I don’t know if I’m going to carry on swimming. I need a break.”