By this time last year, Camille Muffat had clocked 4:01.13, 4:03.21 and 4:04.01 for her top three 400m free swims of Olympic season. She was on her way to gold at London 2012 in 4:01.45, her 4:01.13 from french nationals remaining her best all year, the time a warning to the rest of the best over 400m that France had a serious contender to follow-up Laure Manaudou's success at Athens 2004.
This year started more calmly, with efforts of 4:08.07 and 4:15.45 in domestic waters. Muffat, Nice, put her antlers on in Rennes at French nationals this evening with a 4:04.16 victory (off a 2:00.20 half-way split) over Coralie Balmy, Mulhouse, on 4:07.99 (her second best of the season) and Lotte Friis, the winner's Danish training partner under the guidance of coach Fabrice Pellerin, on 4:10.90.
The 2013 top 6:
Balmy had raced 0.06sec faster than her time this evening but booked her place on France's Barcelona 2013 world titles team nonetheless. She and Muffat were two among seven qualifiers on day 1 in Rennes.
The men's 50m butterfly placed Fred Bousquet back in the realm of international prospects, his 2013 world-leading 23.00sec effort delivering the French crown and victory ahead of his Marseilles teammate and his daughter Manon's uncle Florent (Manaudou, the Olympic 50m free champion), on 23.14.
Bousquet told reporters in Rennes that it felt great to 'take off' again, career-wise after the disappointments of 2012. "There were big moments of doubt but fortunately I'm supported by a great group of people … I've started a new chapter."
The bronze went to Belgian Yoris Grandjean in 23.58, Fabien Gilot the third Frenchman and last man home inside 24, on 23.97. World record holder Rafa Munoz (ESP), on 23.27 for the world No 1 spot before Bousquet's blast this evening, took the B final in 23.28, after swimming 25.11 in heats.
The women's 'fly dash went to Mélanie Henique, Amiens, on 26.47, 0.09sec ahead of Marie Wattell, 15 and racing for Nice, with her training partner Béryl Gastaldello, 17, giving the Muffat-Agnel stable another podium visit, on 26.87. The last dash final of the day, the women's breaststroke, went to Sarah Vaisse, 17 and Amiens, in 32.31.
With Yannick Agnel having decided not to take on the 400m free this season, the first man home at French nationals was Tunisia's Ahmed Mathlouthi, on 3:49.06, Benoît Debast the first Frenchman home in on 3:51.86, his Sarcelles teammate Anthony Pannier third in 3:51.87, Agnel's Nice training partner Damien Joly locked out in 3:52.28.
In semi-finals, joint world champions of 2011, Jérémy Stravius, Amiens, and Camille Lacourt, Marseilles, booked centre stage for the 100m backstroke in 54.37 and 54.48.
In the men's 4x100m freestyle, Marseilles (Magula, 50.00; Bouton, 51.36; Mallet, 49.03; Meynard, 49.27) clocked 3:19.66 for victory over Toulouse (Bourelly 50.05; Landry, 51.28; Regent, 50.59; Metella, 48.43), on 3:20.35.
France team for Barcelona 2013 World Championships after day 1 of trials: