Maxime Grousset bronze medal in the 50m butterfly

In the mid-afternoon of Monday July 24 (Tokyo time), lightning suddenly struck the Marine Messe aquatic complex in Fukuoka (south-west of the Japanese archipelago), which is hosting the world swimming championships until Sunday. A few hours later, Maxime Grousset made a lightning-fast length of pool to win bronze over 50m butterfly. The Frenchman swam 22 seconds 82. He was beaten only by the Italian Thomas Ceccon (22 seconds 68) and the Portuguese Diogo Matos Ribeiro (22 seconds 80).

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The day after Léon Marchand’s sensational world champion title in the 400m medley – erasing the last record held by American legend Michael Phelps – his 24-year-old compatriot also successfully entered the race.

And it doesn’t matter that the event counts for almost nothing, given that it is not on the Olympic Games programme. “If I’m world champion, so much the better. It’s a bonus. I’m here to compete.”summed up Grousset on Sunday 23 July after his semi-final. The Frenchman had already won the distance silver medal at the European Championships in Rome in August 2022.

Michel Chrétien’s protégé entered the competition with a bang, improving his French record in the series on Sunday morning (22 seconds 74), ratifying it by sixteen hundredths, stealing the French passing record, held since 2009 by Frédérick Bousquet, equaled by Florent Manaudou during his 2015 world title. “And I’m not going to stop there”, this fake amateur had warned, with a smile, as he got out of the pool. Without any bravado: the corpulent (1.92 m for 92 kg) repeated himself on Sunday evening in the semifinal, this time with a time of 22 seconds 72, no less than 8And best performance ever. Only small regret: in the final, this time it would have earned him the silver medal.

Appetite to sell

“It’s nice, the swimmer reacted after his semi-final, with his usual composure and his style as quick as his wing beat on the water. It was good, it felt really good in the beginning. » Grousset, however, had reason to place a little more emphasis. Before the final and the performance of the Italian Ceccon, only the Russian Oleg Kostin had swum faster than him this season (22 seconds 62). But the latter is absent from the Fukuoka World Championships, like all his compatriots and Belarusian swimmers – banned since the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

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He had therefore inherited the “big favorite” mark of a race in which he was not necessarily expected, unlike the 100m freestyle or 50m freestyle, whose finals are scheduled for Thursday and Saturday respectively. At the last World Championships, in Budapest, in June 2022, the sprinter from the National Institute of Sport, Competence and Performance won silver in the queen race and bronze in the one-way race, but remained close to the final in the 50m-butterfly (9And). “You learn from your mistakes. Dad, it’s not easy. It took me a while to realize that my punch was quite powerful and not based on frequency. » It was while working on the butterfly round trip in training that he got the click: “I enjoy the 100m pap’, I enjoy the 50m pap’, the two are connected. »

During the French championships in Rennes, in mid-June, the sprinter tried his hand at the 100m butterfly, which he had swum little so far, taking possession of the French record in 50 seconds 61. In Rennes, Grousset above all sent a message to the competition. Five weeks before the World Cup, he achieved the second best world performance of the year, behind Canada’s Joshua Liendo’s 50 seconds 36. “It is madness”, he commented, while such a time would have offered him a world silver medal in 2022, behind Kristof Milak’s 50 second 14. The Hungarian, who scored a home double last summer to crown himself world champion in the 200m-butterfly, is one of the great absentees in Japan, afflicted by mental health problems.

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In Fukuoka, Grousset hopes to reconcile the 50m freestyle and 100m butterfly, the finals of which are scheduled for Saturday, just thirty-three minutes apart. But Michel Chrétien’s swimmer is hungry as hell: with the relays he could dive sixteen times this week. “When you love, you don’t count! »this competitor laughed on Saturday, on the eve of the start of the World Cup.

It’s not this aquatic marathon that scares this big man who is not afraid to challenge tiger sharks and bulldogs when he returns to dive or surf in the lagoons of his native New Caledonia.