Léon Marchand does not walk on water: he runs in it. Crowned world champion in the 400m medley last Saturday, the Toulouse native ranked second in the 200m butterfly final on Tuesday, June 21, at the Budapest Worlds. In the Duna Arena, the 20-year-old swimmer set a time of 1 min 53 s 37, improving on his mark achieved in the semi-finals on Monday (1 min 54 s 32), which had broken the oldest record in France, held since 2002 by Franck Esposito.
Untouchable, the Hungarian Kristof Milak, 22, won the gold medal (1 min 50 s 34), improving his own world record. The Japanese Tomoru Honda took third place (1 min 53 s 61).
Coming from a family of swimmers, Léon Marchand sails straight in the footsteps of his parents, specialists in medley events. His mother, Céline Bonnet, notably competed at the Barcelona Games in 1992. His father, Xavier Marchand, was, until Saturday, the last Frenchman to have won a world medal in a medley race (silver in the 200 m in 1998 at the World Championships in Perth, Australia).
Toulouse, Bob Bowman et Michael Phelps
Trained at the Dauphins du TOEC, the prestigious club of the Pink City, the Toulousain quickly set sail across the Atlantic after adolescence. And for good reason: he decided, in September 2020, to enlist the services of a certain Bob Bowman, former mentor of American legend Michael Phelps, the most successful athlete in the history of the Olympic Games with 28 medals, including 23 Golden.
After a few exchanges by videoconference to gain confidence, the Occitan joined his new coach at the start of the school year and quickly made a name for himself on the Arizona State campus, in the suburbs of Phoenix. During the university championships in March, with a time of 1 min 37 s 69, he managed the feat of stealing from Caeleb Dressel – crowned with seven Olympic titles – his record for the 200 yards (182 m) 4 medley, in front of amazed eyes of the 25-year-old American and spectators at the Georgia Tech Aquatic Center (Atlanta).
Precocious, the tricolor swimmer tries at all costs to avoid the heavy comparison with Phelps, the “glutton of Michigan”, which his coach does not however avoid: “Their times are similar on several points, launched Bob Bowman, June 18 , in Budapest, before the heats of the 400 m medley. The difference between [them] is that Leon is a very good brewer, and Michael was a very good backstopper. “And the technician to continue, at the microphone of France Télévisions: “Léon has much more speed, while Michael has much more endurance, but they are very similar in their approaches to training and their desire to give the best of themselves. They both handle pressure very well. »
By offering his first world title on Saturday, his new colt signed the second best performance in history in the 400m medley (4 min 4 s 28, European record), behind the American (4 min 3 s 84).
Paris 2024 in the viewfinder
Swimming in the wake of his idol, Léon Marchand knows he is being watched. But, since his arrival in Budapest, the six-time French champion has amazed with his maturity. His first world title barely won, he breathed on Saturday at the microphone of France Télévisions: “I came here to make a final, to try to make a medal, but I did not think I would be so determined and so fast in the water. . I train all year for that, (…) the work pays off. »
After the mediocre Olympic Games in Tokyo, French swimming having only brought back a silver medal (Florent Manaudou in the 50m freestyle), the Toulousain appears as a promise for the future for the Blues. All the more so with Paris 2024 in sight. Freshly invested as director of the French racing and open water teams, the Dutchman Jacco Verhaeren prefers, however, to play the card of caution vis-à-vis the prodigy, as if to avoid wearing his eye, two years from the ultimate deadline. “It’s difficult to talk about medals in advance, confided to the World the new boss of the French basins, on the eve of the world championships. But some certainly have the scale. »
Now twice medalist in Budapest, Léon Marchand still has an opportunity to splash these championships with his talent. Three quarters of an hour after his medal in the 200m butterfly, he qualified for the 200m medley final scheduled for Wednesday. A day worthy of an aquatic marathon for the gifted.