Eight years on from gold over 400m free, silver in the 800m free and bronze in the 100m backstroke, Laure Manaudou, France's first and only woman Olympic swimming champion, rates fun over laurels at her third Olympic Games.
In 2007, as she claimed world 200m and 400m titles and entered the world-record books as standard-bearer in both events, the runes were right for a bonanza at Beijing 2008. Love being bigger than life and sport sometimes, Manaudou, three coaches and an Italian lover behind her, was not the same swimmer when she arrived in China. She finished last in the 400m final and in 2009 retired.
She and partner Fred Bousquet had a child, Manon, but by last year, Manaudou was back in the water for fun and fitness at Auburn in the US, Bousquet's base when not home in Marseilles. Her comeback has taken her to the brink of being back at best on backstroke, freestyle no longer part of the mix at a time when France boasts Camille Muffat.
Manaudou, now 25, told AFP: "I am in a different mindset," said Manaudou, who is also a three-time world champion and nine-time European champion. I have no desire to get obsessed about winning a medal. I have more desire to enjoy myself. For the moment, I don't really feel any pressure, I am relaxed and training is taking place in ideal conditions. I do not have that pressure of being the favourite (in the 100 and 200m backstroke). Now I am surrounded by other good swimmers (the French team)".
She added: "Even if I flop, I still qualified for the Games and that was my goal. My target was to be at an Olympics for the third time with people I like."
Her teammates do not include Bousquet this time round, the sprinter having missed the cut at trials, but her brother, Florent Manaudou, will be there in the 50m free and relays (at Bousquet's expense, in fact).
"It is an adventure that I am experiencing with him (Florent), it is a delight to share this with Florent. We are both gaining from this," said Laure. On Bousquet, she noted :"The hardest thing is knowing that he is staying at home. But there again his career isn't over."
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