Fame,shame and renaissance – at just 25,French swimmer Laure Manaudou has dealt with them all.
Manaudou won the 400-metre freestyle gold medal as a teenager in Athens but seemed a lost woman four years later in Beijing. She will get a chance to redeem herself at next month’s London Olympics. As a mother.
Manaudou,who took a two-year maternity break from swimming,returned to the sport last year,focusing on backstroke.
She is eighth in the 200 metres backstroke FINA world rankings,only 0.23 of a second behind third-placed Meagen Nay of Australia.
She’s a fighter,through and through,said Richard Long,a U.S. coach who accompanied her and her boyfriend Frederick Bousquet at the French championships earlier this year.
Manaudou,the enfant terrible of French swimming,was left on the brink of depression after a lacklustre Beijing campaign.
She is in a dangerous personal situation. She is broken inside. We have to be careful that she does not fall into a serious depression,her then coach Lionel Horter had said at the Beijing Games.
Manaudou had everything she wished for at only 17. It was too soon.
She left her parents aged 14 to be trained by Philippe Lucas,who promised she would claim an Olympic gold medal.
Lucas,an aloof character known for his strictness,made Manaudou swim over 15 kilometres a day.
Between June,2004 and April,2008,she remained unbeaten on 400 metres freestyle,winning 23 finals in succession.
Things,however,had already started to go wrong for the Frenchwoman.
She had escaped to train in Italy with her then boyfriend Luca Marin,who would later date her arch-rival Federica Pellegrini.
Manaudou’s complicated personal life came under further scrutiny when naked pictures of her were leaked on the internet just year before the Beijing Games.
Manaudou came back to France to be coached by her brother Nicolas,before moving to Mulhouse,eastern France,to prepare for the Olympics,where she finished last in the 400 metres freestyle final and seventh in the 100 metres backstroke final.
At the Water Cube,Manaudou would go through the mixed zone with a towel over her head.
I’m not even sure it’s worth going on. I don’t even want to swim,she said at the time with tears in her eyes.
She said she put her career between brackets in January,2009 and announced she quit for good in September that year.
Manaudou was then pregnant with her daughter Manon and was living in Auburn,Alabama,with Bousquet,the 2009 50 metres freestyle world silver medallist.
She lived a quiet life far from France and spurred by Bousquet,she eventually made her comeback official in June last year.
The desire to compete is back,she said.
Manaudou appeared relaxed,even joyful at the French championships in March as she qualified for her third Olympics.
Even a minor PR wobble failed to derail her.
She decided to close her Twitter account during the French championships in March after being mocked for her comments on the killings of Jewish children in Toulouse.
I thought everyone was nice but apparently this is not the case,she said.
But she opened an account a few hours later,well aware she is a public figure.
That will never change.