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Budapest Worlds: Jacco Verhaeren, lifeline of French swimming

It’s the hour of truth. Time to jump into the deep end. And not just figuratively. At the long-term world championships, which begin on Saturday June 18, in Budapest, Jacco Verhaeren will have to start justifying why French swimming went to get him in 2021.

“It’s always difficult to talk about medals in advance, tempers this 53-year-old Dutchman, appointed to the post of director of the French teams last June. That the group improves its level, that’s the main thing. I prefer to focus on the method than on the results. But some certainly have the scale. »

Tricolor swimming, however, expects a lot, in Hungary, from this multi-titled coach: a pioneer of Batavian swimming, he accompanied Pieter van den Hoogenband, Inge de Bruijn and Ranomi Kromowidjojo to world and Olympic heights in the 2000s and until the beginning 2010s; he also revived Australian swimming from 2013.

It must be said that after rolling for gold at the London Olympics in 2012 (seven medals, including four titles), French swimmers sank during the following Olympics, in Rio. Not so much under the weight of awards (two silver medals), as controversies between swimmers (old and new), between swimmers and coaches, between coaches…

Since then, the situation has not improved. At the Tokyo Olympics, French swimming posted its lowest record since the Sydney Games in 2000: a single medal (silver).

Read also Tokyo 2021 Olympics: behind Florent Manaudou’s medal, French swimming is swimming on sight

“I am not a magician! »

The arrival of Jacco Verhaeren is part of a broader movement for French sport. The National Sports Agency (ANS), through its “Blue Ambition” program, has set itself the task of building competitive teams for the Paris Olympics in 2024. And to do this, Claude Onesta, director of the high performance within the ANS has led to seeking the best elements for management abroad.

From the rowing “legend”, the German Jürgen Gröbler – the most successful coach at the Olympic Games, all sports combined -, to the Korean archery expert Oh Seon-Tek, via the Italian star volleyball Andrea Giani, the French teams have thus filled themselves with experience.

On paper, Jacco Verhaeren ticks all the boxes: decades of experience at the highest level, the esteem of his international peers, and an unparalleled CV. From Pieter van den Hoogenband’s seven Olympic medals to the miraculous reconstruction of Australian swimming (21 medals in Tokyo), Brabançon has the air of a benefactor. But he defuses straightforwardly: “I’m here to help the team build a culture, and a structure, but it’s a group job, I’m not a magician! », he corrects with an embarrassed smile.

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