French olympic swimmer Florent Manaudou photographed by Karl Lagerfeld
Exclusive Interview of Florent Manaudou, olympic swimmer champion. Photos Karl Lagerfeld.
Since his gold medal at the 2012 summer Olympics in London, Florent Manaudou has taken just two years to rewrite nearly all the records as the fastest swimmer in history. Exclusively for Numéro Homme, the sports hero disrobed for legendary photographer Karl Lagerfeld, before plunging into a deliciously intimate interview en tête-à-tête.
Before him there were Alain Bernard, Camille Lacourt, Yannick Agnel, Camille Muffat, Amaury Leveaux and Frédérick Bousquet. But none of these illustrious French champions came anywhere near the triumphant record of Laure Manaudou, who, between 2001 and 2008, crushed the competition in almost every distance: 50, 100, 200,400, 800 and 1,500 metres. So when her younger brother, Florent, won a surprise 50-metre freestyle victory at the 2012 Olympic Games, some saw his having nothing to lose as the key to his success. Clearly they’d all forgotten his 2007 victory in the French youth championship. 2012’s Olympic coup was, it turned out, merely the foretaste of a meteoric ascent: like his sister before him, Manaudou dominates his field. And this despite his great height of 6 feet 6 inches (1 metre 99 centimetres), which clearly has no effect on his sprint-distance agility. Indeed at the 2014 Doha World Championships, his athletic prowess saw him triumph in the 50-metre backstroke for which he hadn’t even trained. Afterwards, almost embarrassed by his performance, the 24-year-old, coquettish dimples contradicting a square, virile jaw, gave a sheepish grin by way of apology. And as the records fall, so a tidal wave of praise pours forth: the new Michael Phelps, the Zidane of the water, etc. But Manaudou’s shoulders are both figuratively and literally broad. Blessed with exceptional maturity, Olympian calm, a champion’s mind-set, interview charm, the face of an angel, the body of a God, undeniable sex appeal and a sure taste
for fashion, Manaudou has eclipsed his rivals not just in the pool but on every front.
Numéro Homme: People tell me you’re easily bored. Given that swimming is such a repetitive sport, how do you cope?
It wasn’t ever a choice, really. I began when I was almost four in 1994, learning how to stay afloat in the sea, just like my brother and sister before me. It soon became clear I was talented, so I chose to pursue it. It’s not so much a passion as a job. I do give myself a lie-in every other day, since it’s important to rest and recover.
You work out a lot too.
Each week I do three sessions of one and a half hours, then two hours of isometrics. I always work out before training.
People have made fun of Alain Bernard’s muscle vanity. Are you worried that you might end up falling into the same stereotype?
I do enjoy working out – it’s definitely more fun than swimming. Maybe that’s because you can chat in the rest intervals. It gets boring having your head underwater the whole time. I like weight training, I’m quite good at it, but it’s not something I’d do every day if I were to stop swimming. It’s more a complementary activity.
I would imagine you’re good at most sports?
As a child I showed promise in several sports, but I had a couple of good swimming coaches right from the outset. As a teenager I let it slip a bit, as teenagers do, preferring to hang out with friends rather than train after school. Then my brother took things in hand and coached me for five years.
So swimming is really a family business…
My brother, my sister and I all swam. My brother for less time than us, but still a good ten years. After that he started coaching, and even trained my sister and me together in 2007. Our parents didn’t swim but were both very sporty.
Has sibling rivalry been a factor in your life, particularly with respect to your older sister, Laure, in whose footsteps you’re now following?
No, because guys have to swim a lot faster than girls. Beating Laure was never an objective in itself, even if I was proud when I first caught up with her times around the age of 14/15. We were never rivals, and have kept our careers quite separate. She celebrates my victories, and I hers.
She received fairly tough criticism when she decided to retire, as though questions of feminism were somehow at stake in her decision to stop. As a man, presumably you won’t face such problems…
The reaction was tough because today’s public is ever more demanding of sportsmen and women. With the social networks, this kind of phenomenon can assume quite incredible proportions, but people don’t really understand what the life of a high-level sportsperson involves. This is especially true for Laure, who swam many kilometres each day, definitely more than me. The public became aware of me two years ago, but I’ve been swimming for 20 –that’s a lot of work they haven’t witnessed. Laure was an Olympic champion at 17 and she retired at 26; that’s almost a decade of top-level sportsmanship. She had won everything, and so it seemed perfectly normal to me. She wanted to marry, to have children. Women do desire these things, and when Laure wants something she wants it now, like me. As a professional sportswoman, the choice to have a child is a courageous one, involving real sacrifice. Of course the public will always demand more.
Read the full story in Numéro Homme 29, now in stands and available in our iPad app.