It was just after 10 a.m. Wednesday morning, and the sun was already beating down in Tempe: 33°C in this city on the outskirts of Phoenix, Arizona. And the temperature went up another notch in the offices of the Mona Plummer Aquatic Center when the face of Léon Marchand appeared at the start of the 200m medley at the Budapest Worlds. Arrived a little less than a year ago at Arizona State University (ASU), the Frenchman, who won his second title and his third medal in as many races, wore the colors of the Sun Devils in Hungary.
Licensed in Toulouse, the new star of French swimming took the time during confinement to find out how to integrate a prestigious American university. And the choice therefore fell on ASU and Bob Bowman, the former coach of Michael Phelps. There are worse as a reference. ” It is a project [aller aux Etats-Unis] that he had for a long time, because his father had already gone there to train”, explains his trainer, Nicolas Castel. And that’s how the 19-year-old landed under the dodger of Arizona.
Somewhat complicated beginnings
“It did him good to go there, adds Thomas Sammut, his mental trainer for two years. For nineteen years, he lived in the family cocoon and it was the right time for him to fly on his own. But he had to feel that he could count on himself. That’s why the first three months after his arrival in the United States, we hardly spoke, so that he discovered this new environment on his own. The beginnings were not easy. His former roommate and training partner, Christian Osterndorf, tells us:
“He was a little embarrassed because he didn’t speak English as well as everyone else. But he adapted rather quickly and we helped him to feel good in the group. »
It was therefore also necessary to get into the rhythm of more advanced and more morning training. “Training starts at 6 a.m., until 7:30 a.m., Marchand told us before the Worlds. Then we have a little siesta, then lessons – usually from 10 am until 12 or 1 pm – and training in the afternoon from 2 pm to 4 pm. Then we are quiet, even if we often have homework to do. We go to bed very early and we get up very early. »
“The American system is better than ours”
In total, Léon Marchand must chain nine training sessions in the week, including three of bodybuilding, at the Mona Plummer Aquatic Center, one of the most famous aquatic centers in the country. With its grandstand that can accommodate 2,000 people and its Olympic pool, in addition to two other swimming pools, the infrastructure is ideal for welcoming the golden youth from all over the country, but also from France, Switzerland or Ireland.
“He has everything in the same place, notes Michel Coloma, technical director of the Dauphins de Toulouse club. Here, it runs from right to left, it’s a bit complicated. We are doing everything to put it in good conditions, but the American system is better than ours. When you have the tools to work with, with high-level infrastructures, it’s easier to perform. »
Upon his arrival, Léon Marchand was staying in a dormitory on campus, a treatment reserved for all freshmen at ASU (first-year student). “We lived very close to the swimming pool, a few minutes walk away, develops Christian Osterndorf. Next year, he will live in a house a little further away with other members of the team. »
University competitions where he has fun
Very close with his friends from the Sun Devils, Léon Marchand was able to develop this team spirit during the various university championships, the pac-12 and the NCAA. “It creates a good group dynamic,” says his coach. They train with the aim of having the best ranking for their university. In the motivation of athletes, this is something interesting. »
“It contributes to his development, adds Thomas Sammut. He can let go, there is a crazy atmosphere. All returning swimmers from the United States have the same return. We’re bored in France… It would be great to be inspired by what’s being done there. Frankly, he’s having a blast. He rubs shoulders with great swimmers, and that’s also how he was able to compare himself to others. »
“He’s a nice guy”
Coming out of the pools Léon Marchand, considered by his trainer as “a very good student with good results”, can take advantage of the gastronomic excellence that surrounds the Mona Plummer Aquatic Center: here a wine bar, there a restaurant specializing in fries, in the corner, a chain of barbecue restaurants… In short, everything to delight the thousands of ASU students (about 100,000, or more than half of the city), but not necessarily the top athletes.
“Anyway, Leon is very interested in music, but above all being with his friends, assures Osterndorf. He’s a nice guy who takes care of everyone, he’s fun to be around in everyday life. We spend a lot of time together with the group. And we sometimes go to see games of the US football team and college basketball. »
Especially since the Sun Devil Stadium (American football, 53,000 seats) and the Wells Fargo Arena (basketball, 17,000 seats) are close to the swimming pool. He could perhaps meet James Harden, the other legend out of ASU. Because yes, seen from France, we can now put Léon Marchand, who at the age of 20 became the third French swimmer in history to win two world titles in the same year after Laure Manaudou (2007) and Florent Manaudou (2015), at the legend rank.