Rousseau reigns supreme in the velodrome
A three-time Olympic gold medallist and 10-time world champion, French cyclist Florian Rousseau was practically unbeatable on the track in the 1990s and 2000s.
On Thursday 21 September 2000 in Sydney’s Dunc Gray Velodrome, Florian Rousseau was still reeling from his failure to win Olympic gold medal in the previous day’s individual sprint. Having dug deep to defeat compatriot Laurent Gané in the semi-final, the Frenchman had virtually nothing left in the tank by the time he faced the USA’s Marty Nothstein in the final, losing 2-0.
“I didn’t win that silver medal; I lost the gold!” he later reflected. Despite this disappointment, he managed to refocus his efforts on the Keirin, an event that was not his speciality and in which little was expected of him.
Rousseau’s coach, Daniel Morelon, who had himself won two Olympic titles at Mexico City 1968, urged his protégé to seize his second chance at glory. “You’re at the Olympic Games! Don’t dwell on the previous race and don’t worry about other competitors!” he exclaimed.
The Frenchman got off to a shaky start, and was forced to go through the repechage to gain a place in the semi-finals, where he managed to earn one of the six spots in the final.
“The final was really quick; I pushed hard at the bell, and in the sprint for the finish line I was able to overtake my opponents and win the gold,” he recalled. It was his third title in two Olympic Games and his second in Sydney. France, represented by Rousseau, Laurent Gané and Arnaud Tournant also triumphed in the team sprint, defeating Great Britain in the final and setting a new Olympic record of 44.233 seconds.
Servant to his sport
As a teenager, Rousseau had excelled at road cycling, showing great promise in time trial events in particular. He was advised to try his hand at the track in order to develop his acceleration, a suggestion was initially sceptical about. “It didn’t seem like my cup of tea,” he said. “But in my first competition, I broke quite a few records.”
At 15, the Orléans native secured his first national title and joined the INSEP National Sport Institute in Paris soon afterwards in 1990. Years later, he would return there to fulfil the roles of national sprint coach and assistant performance director for France’s 2016 Olympic and Paralympic campaigns.
As the 1990s progressed, Rousseau developed into a track cycling star, and by the time he arrived at the Atlanta Games in 1996 he was already a two-time 1,000m time trial world champion (1993 and 1994). The 22-year-old duly added the Olympic time trial title to his CV, setting a new Olympic record of 1:02.712 at the Stone Mountain Park Velodrome, as his final opponent and great rival, Australia’s Shane Kelly, suffered the misfortune of disqualification, after his foot slipped out of the pedal.
Rousseau then attempted to double his tally of gold medals in the sprint, but was beaten in the quarter finals by Jens Fiedler (GER), who would eventually claim the title.
Top of the Worlds
One month after the Atlanta Games, Rousseau landed his first UCI World Championship sprint crown in Manchester (GBR). He subsequently defended his title in Perth (AUS) in 1997 and in Bordeaux (FRA) in 1998, while playing a crucial part in France’s team five straight sprint triumphs at the Worlds between 1997 and 2001.
Rousseau brought the curtain down on his remarkable cycling career with two bronze medals in the individual sprint at the Worlds in 2001 and 2002. That took his total haul to four Olympic medals, including three golds, 16 world championship medals, including 10 golds, and 15 national titles – in the sprint, 1km time trial and Keirin events.
Subsequently, between 2005 and 2013, Rousseau worked as the national sprint coach, accompanying the French team to Beijing 2008 and London 2012, and thus prolonging what he has described as “a close affinity with the Olympic spirit”.