The last time that French artistic swimming left an international championship with a medal, Laure Manaudou still triumphed in the pools under the watchful eye of Philippe Lucas. It was in 2007, during the World Championships in Melbourne, Australia. Virginie Dedieu thus offered herself the last of her three solo world titles before bowing out.
Fifteen years later, France has not won a medal in this discipline. However, with a new generation that must reach maturity in Paris for the Olympic Games in 2024, the European championships, which begin on Thursday August 11, constitute a trial run that can allow the Tricolores to finally bring back a new charm. For franceinfo: sport, Virginie Dedieu returns to the reasons for such a long wait.
Franceinfo: sport: Can we hope to see France bring back a medal from Rome this year in artistic swimming?
Virginia Dedieu: We clearly have a chance, because it’s more open without the Russians. We are coming out of Worlds where the French women made a good impression and finished at the foot of the podium. Spain will not be there either. On the solo, Oriane Jaillardon has a high-flying program. She did not shine in Budapest (9th) but she has the means to climb onto the podium. Finally, solo, Eve planeix is our best chance for a medal.
How to explain such a scarcity?
After my retirement [Virginie Dedieu a arrêté une première fois en 2005 avant de revenir en 2007, puis elle a repris lors des Mondiaux de Kazan en 2015, une dernière fois, pour le duo mixte], many girls have stopped. It takes a long time to go up, but we tumble very quickly.
The problem with synchronized swimming is that a team will be strong when it works together for a long time. However, in France, this is not the case because we are not professional athletes, there are parallel studies. Si, at the time, we trained 7 to 8 hours a day, today it is more 5 to 6 hours of training every day. This results in a loss in the results of the swimmers. Furthermore, once out of school, they stop artistic swimming because they cannot work full time and train at a high level at the same time.
In what is the medium or long term so important in this discipline?
It takes several months to create a choreography. For it to be fully in place, it takes a minimum of one year. All this time, you have to have the team together to prepare and refine the set. Then from one year to the next, it will be necessary to increase the difficulty to be successful at the world level. A team that can claim something at the Olympic level, it takes years.
“The Spaniards were Olympic medalists in 2008 in Beijing for the first time. In 2004, they were finalists and in Sydney, in 2000, they missed the qualification. It was the same team that remained from start to finish. it took them three Olympiads together to be medalists. That’s how long it takes to get there.”Virginie Dedieu, triple world champion in artistic swimming
at franceinfo: sports
However, there is a real momentum that has been created in view of Paris 2024. French swimmers will stretch their studies because they know that there is this deadline. However, the global sync has become denser. There are countries which “did not exist” before and which are now there. Greece and Ukraine are among them.
Don’t swimmers benefit from aids?
Today, they have to select the competitions because they do not have the means to participate in all those they would like. There is a lack of aid within the French federation, but it is also played out at the level of the National Sports Agency, which holds the purse strings. In Italy, swimmers are in the navy and therefore are paid to practice their sport. It feels like, until there’s a medal opportunity, the assists aren’t there. But it’s a vicious circle. We’re not going to get there with nothing.
Can the Olympics in Paris in 2024 create momentum?
I am pessimistic for the future if we don’t have help. I can talk about it because I am president of the Pays d’Aix swimming club. The high level is taught in the club. But we are going to have a hard time keeping our coaches because they are poorly paid and there are very few of them. You have to inspire them. For swimmers, it’s the same thing, you have to be able to pay them.
At the level of the sponsors, it is not better. I was the only French sponsored for a long time. It allowed me to pay for my studies. I had 4,600 euros per year, en being a triple world champion. Compared to what other swimmers, only finalists, were getting, it was ridiculous.
The attraction of these European championships is also a first men’s solo event…
Yes, in the Worlds Series [la Coupe du monde qui se déroule toute l’année sur dix étapes]it started last year. But this is the first time in history in international championships. Quentin Rakotomalala, who comes from my home, in Aix-en-Provence, takes part. He has every chance.
How to explain that there was no male competition before?
At first, it was a rather feminine discipline. However, there have always been boys in France, but they were in the women’s sections. However, there was no access for men during the international championships. The first time was in 2015 with the introduction of mixed duo. I hope it will help create vocations.