Will the fresh air of the forests of Oregon suit French athletes better than the dampness of the megalopolis of Tokyo? In Eugene, the French athletics team advances low profile to the world championships (from July 15 to 24) after its failed performance during the 2021 Summer Olympics (OG), only saved from the zero point by the decathlete Kevin Mayer, silver medalist.

Taunted for these poor results, shaken by internal tensions (departure of two national technical directors (DTN) and the director of high performance) and mired in complicated relations with the National Sports Agency (ANS) and the Ministry of Sports, the French Federation (FFA) knows it is expected at the turn. Tricolor athletics hopes to show itself in a better light.

Two years from the Paris Olympics, there is no more time to lose. In December 2021, after months of negotiations, the ANS and the FFA agreed on a new duo: former decathlete Romain Barras was promoted to ANS High Performance Director; the former rowing DTN Patrick Ranvier is in charge of the same position within the Federation: “Coming from outside, without preconceptions and without affect, after a period that has been complicated, it can be beneficial”, says this last.

Inspector General of Youth and Sports, passed by four different federations, Patrick Ranvier was the first choice of President André Giraud, who fought for several months to have it validated. “We lost six months. I would have needed it, “says Patrick Ranvier, who is also pleased to have “resumed a normal relationship” with the ANS.

« Signal pertinent »

Time is a luxury that French athletics hardly has. As pole vaulter Renaud Lavillenie said, “two years from the Games, it’s too late”. Romain Barras is aware of this: “We are not going to revolutionize anything and we must not. We have to play on the margins on the support of the athletes. »

Patrick Ranvier insists: “The FFA is a big shop that deserves to be reorganized a bit. It is necessary to bring readability, simplification, a little process and management of people. »

The climate seems peaceful. “It was a federation that worked at double speed, the national technical management on one side, the organization chart of the federation on the other, details Patrick Ranvier. Everyone is working together again for the same issue. It is already a signal. »

“You have to look at the way”

For the Worlds, a tight selection of 28 individual athletes and 3 relays was sent to the United States. The guideline is simple: send a competitive team with fewer athletes likely to be eliminated in the first round. Especially since this year, the European championships will take place three weeks later, in mid-August – 42 Blues are already part of the selection for Munich which will be completed at the beginning of the month.

According to the “advice” of the ANS, the efforts are concentrated on “an audience of young people capable of being finalists or even medalists, develops Barras. We support them, we prioritize energy and resources.” In this “Ambition 2024” plan, 56 athletes have been identified. “We don’t want to miss anyone,” he adds.

Renaud Lavillenie, qualified for Eugene and who hopes to be present in Paris in 2024, is well placed to know: “To get five Olympic medals, you have to count on a potential of 15 to 20 finalists. The 2012 Olympic champion said, “Let’s use the next two years to empower young people to progress.” »

Kevin Mayer, the decathlon world record holder and one of the few big world medal chances, is more optimistic: “They say our athletics are not doing well. I don’t quite agree. You have to look at the way and not just the medals. There were many finalists in Tokyo. I’m not worried “.

Premier podium crucial

While dodging the medal prediction for Eugene, Patrick Ranvier is not hiding for the 2024 Games. “Our sport distributes 144 medals. We cannot have a lesser ambition than that of having six to eight in Paris. An ambition, not a goal. “Roman, it scares him when I talk like that,” he reports, smiling. In 2016, the Habs won six Olympic medals in Rio.

But if French athletics is faced with the urgency of results in view of Paris 2024, the successes of the 2028 and 2032 Games are being built today. “My challenge is two-speed, confirms the DTN. We are putting in place more stable and structured systems to work on succession. On August 1, Kevin Mayer’s ex-coach, Bertrand Valcin, will be appointed head of performance optimization. And a scientific profile will come to deal with the field of research.

First point of passage towards the Olympic Games at home, the Eugene Worlds will be scrutinized. Especially since French swimming, the other major Olympic sport in difficulty in Japan, shone at the world championships in Budapest in June, with eight medals, including two gold. “Swimming put a little pressure on us, smiles Patrick Ranvier, We’ll hunker down if it doesn’t work, we’ll be very happy if it works. But I would not want us to retain only the balance of medals. »

Always important in a major championship, obtaining a first podium will be crucial. “The emulation of a medal can sometimes lead to others, confirms Kevin Mayer. I am at the end of the program [Sunday July 24]. Don’t count on me. “The French team hopes for it, from the first weekend. Saturday July 16, Quentin Bigot is one of the favorites in the hammer throw final.