MENNECY-After disappointing performances in Atlanta (only three finalists out of a team of 25), the French Swimming Federation has been trying to, as the expression goes here, "save the furniture." No use bemoaning champions past. Alas, the likes of Olympic medallists Catherine Plewinski and Stephan Caron have done their part. The job now rests on the shoulders of butterflyer Franck Esposito (bronze medallist in Barcelona) and a younger crowd of tricoloured contenders.
Officials vowed to take a tougher stance heading into the new four year cycle and the first hurdle, the European Championships in August. The decision to abolish seasonal nationals made this meet (May 15-18) the one and only national roundup, and the only chance to qualify for Sevilla.
The swimmers, the best of whom had prepared at altitude in Font Romeu, were roused to some positive performances, but tougher standards assured that the team bound for Spain is drastically reducedŃnine individual qualifiers and three relay swimmers, with a possible addition in Monaco. Given that the team for Perth will include only those who make a final in Sevilla, the rest of the country can go back to work.
Of note were national records by Esposito (100 fly, 53.20), Xavier Marchand (200 IM, 2:01.80), Roxana Maracineanu (100 back, 1:03.04, 200 back, 2:13.47) and Nadˇge Cliton (200 IM, 2:17.14). Solenne Figu¸s of Toulouse took the 200 freestyle in 2:00.75, a time that ranks her second in the world this year; she will be the mainstay of France's 4x200 freestyle relay.
No men's relays qualified, and Esposito's 200 fly, while under the standard at 1:59.42, was well off his record of 1:57.58.
Another promising performer was Julien Sicot. The 19 year old from Martinique was French champion in the 50 freestyle (23.08) and swam to second place in the B final of the 100 freestyle (behind Algerian Salim Il¸s) in a time that would have won the A final (51.03). He was too slow to qualify, but fast enough to raise an eyebrow or two.