Olympic bronze medallist Marc-Antoine Olivier of France, 24, can’t be stopped. His drive and aspiration for open water comes through as an evidence. No hesitation in his speech as he replies to FINA’s questions. He is one of a kind.
Tallying two World titles and four Marathon Swim World Series victories, he is determined to add many more to his champion’s record.
After claiming gold at the first leg of the FINA/CNSG Marathon Swim World Series 2021, in Doha (QAT) on March 13, Olivier comes back on this first international race held in particular conditions.
“It felt really good to compete again because the last World Cup stage was last year in Doha, exactly a year and a month ago,” he admits.
“The race was particularly good because we have been met with challenging conditions such as heavy stream and waves. It was a long time we didn’t have these type of elements for a World Series race so I really appreciated this aspect.”
Reliving the last instants of the race, Olivier remembers: “After the second lap, we have almost created an escape together with Kristof Rasovsky, but it did not lead to anything more. We were quickly joined by the others. After this, I had many plans in my head to go and claim the victory and I managed to lead, with Gregorio Paltrinieri next to me, during the penultimate lap with 4km to go. We were both next to each other to create a pace and break through. In the end, Gregorio strategically placed himself behind and I continued to lead until the finish line.”
With the pandemic and for about a year now, athletes have seen their opportunities to test their hard work decrease and they have missed the adrenaline and additional experience an international event provides.
Racing next to the most experienced open water swimmers is really enjoyable especially in an Olympic year. It allows everyone to measure and position themselves against the other swimmers ahead of the major milestone, the Olympic Games.
“It was important to see where we are but we haven’t prepared this event like we would for the Olympics, obviously. We can really see if the work we are doing throughout the year is efficient and good despite the various restrictions to train. So this competition was a really good way to position ourselves!”
Doha holds a special place in Olivier’s swimming career as he values the venue and the organisation.
“Doha is really great because the race is staged in a different part of the sea each time. We don’t have to race the same route every time and it makes it more interesting. The hosts are really good with hospitality as well, and the organisation of the event. It is a place I particularly like to go to and it is a pleasure to take part in this stage of the World Cup. Water is normally above 22C° so it is lovely to swim in.”
Asked if this first event caused more tension and stress than usual, Olivier said:
“The first stressful situation we have been confronted with was the travel. We were supposed to arrive in Doha on Tuesday evening but we only arrived at 4am on Friday, just 24h before our race.”
“The travel restrictions due to COVID-19 were the main cause of stress. Other than that, there wasn’t so much stress at all. It actually was a relief to be able to take part in an international competition, finally,” he admits.
Continuing to train and progress amid the pandemic has been a challenge for many high-level athletes, but Olivier remains positive and realistic about all of it.
“We are now used to comply with the COVID protocols because we have started to compete in pool events already. We are used to wait in the room for the PCR test result and all the various safety measures that are necessary at the moment for a secured and safe environment.”
In my opinion, it also prepares us for the Olympic Games and the protocols we will have to follow when going to Japan.
Recent open water history has seen France completely overtake the discipline with an ambitious young generation that has achieved great results at the Olympics but also at the FINA World Championships. Olivier, an integral part of this success story, explains how the arrival of Stephane Lecat as National Team Open Water Programme Director in 2014, changed the destiny of the nation.
“The keen interest for open water in France arrived in 2014 with Stephane Lecat. We already had a generation that was strong amongst the junior category but was struggling to have good results in the elite competitions because they were lacking experience and this special touch to reach the podium,” he concedes.
“This young generation and Stephane Lecat’s expertise and knowledge made the success of the French team and our first podiums were reached, for example in the 10km with Aurelie Muller and myself at the Olympics. This collaboration has opened many doors and a better formation and preparation among the youngsters.”
“Medals make the youth dream, so it has naturally attracted more young people in the discipline. We always travel with a lot of young swimmers to the World Cup so they can directly compete with senior athletes and gain a maximum of experience. That way, when they finish to compete with the junior they aren’t lost and they know how a race runs and can perform well.”
“This generation paired with Stephane’s skills made us the best nation of the world!” he finally reflects.
With the Olympics being the hot topic at the moment, Olivier makes it clear:
My objective has always been to mark my discipline. In order to reach this, I have to go for the Olympic gold, simply.
In order to prepare the best, his schedule for the next few months unfolds as follows: “International travels are more complicated but we try to find solutions. As the Seychelles World Series has been cancelled, we are looking at going to La Reunion or Martinique, both French territories, and organise a competition in a warm climate with a training camp before in April. Then we will go to a final training camp in altitude in Sierra Nevada (ESP) at the end of June for three weeks. We will then directly fly to Japan with two weeks in Kanazawa to get used to jet lag and the climate and, from there, we will the go the Olympic Village.”
However, when in France, Olivier trains with coach Philippe Lucas.
“Personally, I have been training with Philippe Lucas for six years now. I started with him in 2015 in Narbonne (FRA), where we stayed three years. And now we have been based in Montpellier (FRA) for three years. We exclusively train in swimming pools, never in open water, because Philippe wants to have a lot of time markers which is hard to get in the sea, so we stay in the pool.”
Olivier maintains the same level of ambition and expectations when it comes to the 2022 season, namely the FINA World Championships.
“For Fukuoka I am also aiming for gold and do better than what I did in Budapest where I won three medals, two gold and one bronze. I would like to equal or better my Budapest tally.”
Marc-Antoine Olivier will next attend the Budapest (HUN) and Setubal (POR) FINA/CNSG Marathon World Series in June.