LONDON (Reuters) - Camille Muffat grew up in the shadow of Laure Manaudou but on Sunday, with an Olympic 400 meters freestyle gold medal around her neck, the French swimmer found her own place in the sun.
Manaudou, once the enfant terrible of French swimming, won that same gold as a teenager at the 2004 Athens Games and is also competing in London but only in the 100 and 200m backstroke events.
The fortunes of two women whose paths have been linked ever since Muffat beat Manaudou as a 15-year-old newcomer were contrasted on Sunday, with one on the rise and the other in decline.
While Manaudou was eliminated from the 100 backstroke with by far the slowest time in her heat, Muffat completed the process of matching her former rival’s achievements by becoming only the second French swimmer to win a women’s swimming gold.
“I lacked a big success at a big meet and now nobody can say I don’t have it,” the 200 and 400 world championship bronze medalist said of the first Olympic medal for France in the London pool.
It did not take long for France’s second to come along, with the men’s 4x100 freestyle relay team beating the Americans, Russians and world champion Australians for gold.
“When I hit the wall, it was a huge relief,” said Muffat, who won the short course 200 freestyle title in 2010.
“I didn’t think of all the work I’ve done but of all my French team mates in the pool and in the stands.”
The 22-year-old from Nice led all the way in the final, matched stroke for stroke by American Allison Schmitt while Britain’s reigning champion Rebecca Adlington was too far behind to do more than chase the bronze medal.
“I knew I was the best,” said Muffat, who had not slept well the night before. “I just had to prove it.
“I did my race. But in the last 50 meters I felt bad, for the first time. But these are the Olympics, one forgets the pain.”
Editing by Greg Stutchbury