Great hope of French swimming, Léon Marchand, 20, has grown since training in the United States with Bob Bowman, the ex-mentor of Michael Phelps, and hopes to demonstrate it at the World Championships in Budapest from Saturday.
For his first World Championships, two years before the 2024 Olympics in Paris, Marchand will take part in three individual races: the 200m medley, the 400m medley and the 200m butterfly.
If he knows he is eagerly awaited, the pressure does not seem to reach the young Toulousain with a smiling face: “It’s the world championships, there is still a high level so it’s time to be on top “, he says. “(But) I’m pretty relaxed in terms of expectations.”
Despite his young age, the versatile swimmer has already experienced the tension of an Olympic final, that of the 400m medley last summer in Tokyo (6th) when he was only 19 years old.
Since then, his trajectory has taken an American turn which has taken him from Toulouse to Phoenix, where he now trains under the guidance of Bob Bowman, the emblematic coach of Michael Phelps, the greatest swimmer in history with his 23 Olympic titles.
– “Like in the movies!” –
“It made me a little weird the first few weeks, but I was really happy to discover a lot of things,” he says.
In Arizona, he also discovered the intensity of training. “In the United States, the swimmers are always at their fullest, whereas I had my quiet little warm-up,” he continues. “I arrived, I was shocked”.
Visible consequence of these new methods: “I gained a few pounds,” he smiles. “I think there are two things that did that, it’s the bodybuilding (…) and the food. The food is still much fattier there, we eat a lot of burgers, pizzas, It’s like in the movies!”
“But I think I feel better in the water. I’m more powerful and I can finish my races better, so in the end it’s beneficial,” he said.
Since his American exile, the Toulousain, from a family of Olympic swimmers, has chained very high level performances with a French record in the 200 m medley or a university record in the 200 yard medley in the spring, until there owned by the American Caeleb Dressel, one of his inspirations.
“It’s very easy to work with him”, explains Bob Bowman, with whom he is very close. “He is focused on what he has to do. He has very clear objectives. (…) We will see how far he can go, but I think he can go very far”.
Until the Olympic podium in two years in Paris?
“In my head, I always wanted to be on this path,” explains Marchand. “I didn’t think it would be this fast. I didn’t think I was going to be successful in the United States in my first year but I always had in mind that I wanted to be an Olympic champion one day. I don’t know when, we’ll see”.
– “The most important thing is the Olympics” –
In Paris for the home Games, he could well be one of the most followed sportsmen, which he is already preparing for with the help of a mental trainer.
“We have put a lot of things in place for Paris because we know it will be the time when there will be the most expectations and pressure,” he says. “It’s growing so I try to adapt every day and I think I manage it better and better. Now the stress allows me to go faster”.
“It’s what is needed in fact, because it’s good to swim fast in meetings, but the most important thing is the Olympics. So we put things in place that allow me to be good at the present moment, that is to say in the final at the Games in Paris.”
In the meantime, he is concentrating on his Hungarian week: “I think he is very well mentally”, assures Bowman. “He’s swum extremely well this year and trained really well. So I think he’s confident he can perform well there.”