Ugo Didier and Nathan Maillet, new wave of French swimming

One plunged almost automatically into the Tokyo basin. The other jumped into the unknown. Put on the blue-white-red cap, greet the camera, climb on the pedestal, at 46, David Smetanin knows the routine of a Paralympic Games finalist by heart. Since the Athens Games in 2004, the Grenoblois has never missed the quadrennial meeting. Nor the opportunity to bring home one – sometimes several – Paralympic medal.

For Ugo Didier, this is a first. Because if the tricolor swimmer of 19 years monopolizes the international podiums of the last five years – three medals at the world championships (including one in gold in 2017) and six others at the European championships in individual (including three in gold) -, Tokyo must change its scope.

The member of the Cugnaux Swimmers Circle (Haute-Garonne) is called upon to become the spearhead of the new generation, the one which, in view of the Games in Paris in 2024 in particular, must breathe new life into French para-swimming. Because it has lost its luster in recent years.

If it is the largest provider of French medals at the Paralympic Games (more than 330 metals since the Rome Games in 1960), the French para-swimming team returned empty-handed from Rio four years ago. And in the two previous editions, she had won only four medals (two in Beijing, in 2008, two in London, in 2012).

Since 2016, the French para-swimming began to change. In Tokyo, it relies on a young delegation: the average age – if we exclude its two “historic” champions Claire Supiot (53) and David Smétanine – is less than 22 years.

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Ugo Didier in search of gold

In the space of a few days, in Tokyo, Ugo Didier, who has been competing in disabled sports since 2014, has become the leader of the Blues ” by setting an example, by his working methods and by the bon vivant that he is ”, ensures his trainer, Samuel Chaillou. ” He is someone who very quickly capitalizes on everything he learns ”, adds the latter about the one who immerses himself up to 25 hours a week and is also a student at the National Institute of Applied Sciences (INSA) in Toulouse.

Ugo Didier arrived in Japan with high ambitions: to win three titles, in the three disciplines in which he is involved. For the moment, after two races, his record is “leaner”. He first won, Wednesday, August 25, a silver medal in the 400 m freestyle in the S9 category (athletes with disabilities in the arms are limited in their propulsion and damage to the lower limbs make pushes difficult), being inserted between the Australians William Martin and Alexander Tuckfield.

As usual – and like his idol, the sprinter Christophe Lemaitre – he came back like a bomb in the last pitches after being left behind during the sink. “His weak points are the start and the turns, because he has instability in his knee and very few muscles in his legs”, explains Samuel Chaillou.

Born with club feet and atrophy of the lower limbs, the Haut-Garonnais compensates by a high frequency of arms. He also broke his personal best by almost four seconds, securing the European record in the discipline.

For his second race, Monday, August 30, the French swimmer failed to win bronze for… four hundredths in the 100m backstroke final, won by Russian Bogdan Mozgovoi. Lucid, Ugo Didier reacted after the race:

“I miss a bit at the start, a bit at the turn and a lot in the swim. That will serve as a lesson for me next time. “

Wednesday 1er September, he has one last chance to climb onto the top step of the podium. The French are aligned in the 200m medley (series at 2:50 a.m. Paris time, final at 11:30 a.m.), an event he won at the European Championships in Funchal (Portugal) in February, by beating the European record.

Nathan Maillet to write an adapted swimming page

France's Nathan Maillet competes in the men's 200m freestyle event in the S14 category during the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games at the Tokyo Aquatics Center on August 27, 2021.

Nathan Maillet will be on Thursday, September 2 (3 hours in Paris), at the start of the 100 m backstroke, the second and last event he will compete in Tokyo. At 22 years old, the one who is the only representative of the French team of adapted para-swimming (specific to swimmers with intellectual disabilities) also figures this succession of the discipline.

If a podium seems inaccessible for the swimmer from Loudun (Vienna) – who also discovers the Games – it could equal the performance of Alicia Mandin, the only French swimmer in adapted sport to have climbed to the final of the Paralympic Games (on the 100m breaststroke), in London in 2012.

For this, Nathan Maillet will have to take advantage of his wingspan (2 m 10) and swim “in amplitude”, that is to say make less arm movements to limit his energy expenditure. What is trying to instill in him Bertrand Sebire, the national trainer at the France Para-swimming adapted pole, in Vichy (Allier). What the swimmer failed to do on Friday August 27 in the 200m freestyle: the pressure was too great and he was eliminated in the heats. “He was at the Games and he wanted to do too well”, notes Bertrand Sebire.

Overwhelmed by emotions, the swimmer from the Association sportive des nageurs loudunais (ASNL) suffering from autism spectrum disorders (ASD), did not manage to raise his level. “He must become aware of what he could have done on the front crawl and restore his confidence”, Bertrand Sebire said after the race.

Anyone who knows the times achieved by French swimmers like the back of their hand did not fail to attend, Friday, August 27, the final of the 400 m freestyle of Alex Portal concluded with a bronze medal. On Thursday he could be inspired by his compatriot, who, at 19, also won a medal silver on the 200m medley, Monday August 30.

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