- 27 Apr 2015
Tony Estanguet: Flying high with the flag
Three-time Olympic canoe single slalom (C1) champion Tony Estanguet recalls the special emotion he felt marching at the head of the French delegation at the Opening Ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Games.
Tony Estanguet first took part in the Olympic Games in 2000 in Sydney. There he experienced a strange mix of emotions, given that he earned his place by knocking out his brother Patrice during national selection. He went on to dominate the field on the rolling waters of Penrith Lakes, winning his first gold medal at the age of 22.
“It’s my most enduring memory,” he explains. “It was simply magical to be a part of this Olympic family and become an Olympian. I remember the Opening Ceremony. It was like another world, and on the day of the competition, all slightly spaced out, we just let ourselves be carried along by the drive and enthusiasm, the difficulty of the course and the public! I remember that I was already locked in a battle with my rival, Michal Martikan; we knew each other well; and bringing this battle to an Olympic theatre - that was just magical.”
Four years later, during the Olympic Games in Athens, at the Helleniko Whitewater Stadium, Estanguet mounted a successful defence of his title, as his main rival Martikan incurred a penalty for touching a gate.
By now the athlete from Pau in the south-west corner of France had established himself as something of a sporting icon back home, and it was no surprise when he was chosen to be France’s flagbearer for the Opening Ceremony of the Beijing Games. On 8 August 2008, he marched at the head of the French delegation in front of the 91,000 spectators who had packed into the Chinese capital’s Bird’s Nest Stadium.
“It was an immense privilege,” he reflects. “As well as playing the role of athlete and competitor, I had now been given the role of team captain, a symbolic role, and one that recognised my value as a person beyond that of my role as a double Olympic champion. It was an extremely powerful ex-perience because it was a part of something different. Being a flagbearer brought me a whole new set of emotions.
“Even though I had already taken part in the athletes’ parade twice, this time I was leading the team. It really is a moment I will remember forever. The opening ceremony sends a symbolic message of peace through sport, which is brilliant and fantastic. I am really proud to have taken part in the pa-rade four times and to have been the flagbearer for my country.”
In Beijing, however, things didn’t go well for the French champion. In our video, he explains how he tried to implement a strategy that didn’t work. He found himself eliminated in the semi-finals and ultimately placed 9th.
“That allowed me to reassess myself, to take stock. It was a lesson in humility. The Olympic Games has a lot to do with humility too: all the best athletes in the world have come together for the competition and face each other head on, that sends such a great message!”
In Beijing, it was Estanguet’s long-time rival, Michal Martikan, who won gold. Meanwhile, the Frenchman’s “reassessment” proved beneficial, resulting in two world championship titles in 2009 in Seu d’Urgell (ESP) and in 2010 in Tacen (SLV), as well as a European title in 2011. Finally, during his fourth Olympic Games, in London at the Lee Valley White Water Centre on 31 July 2012, he once again completed a perfect descent in the final, making him the only French athlete to become a three-time Olympic champion in the same discipline at three separate editions of the Olympic Games.
At that point he decided to retire from sport and begin work supporting Olympism, having been elected by his peers to the International Olympic Committee’s Athletes’ Commission for an eight-year term.