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Monday, 22 August 2016

Tears, jeers and a touch of farce as France celebrates Olympic "success"

So they’re over - the Rio Olympics that is.

And French headline writers are celebrating the country’s “record haul” of 42 medals and seventh-placed finish overall.

Heck, even the French president, François Hollande, took time out to bask in the glory and congratulate France’s sportsmen and women saying they “were more than champions, they were role models”.

But while politicians can be forgiven for having selective memories and choosing only to use statistics that fit their own perception of the world, it surely only takes a few clicks of the mouse for even the most inexperienced of journalists to check the facts and figures.

Sure, the 10 Golds, 18 Silvers and 14 Bronzes the French team brought home was collectively more than London (35), Beijing (41) and Athens (33)  - the last three host cities - and the highest post World War II cluster (well ahead of the paltry five in Rome in 1960 or nine in Montreal in 1976) but still way behind the total when the Olympics was still about competing and not just winning.

Back in 1900, when Paris hosted the Games and a certain Pierre, Baron de Coubertin was president of the International Olympic Committee, France claimed…wait for it…101 medals in total (26 Gold, 14 Silver and 34 Bronze) finishing top of the table.

All right, so as everybody’s online friend, Wikipedia, points out, in 1900 Gold medals weren’t actually handed out (first place received Silver and second Bronze).

But apparently the IOC has since “retroactively assigned Gold, Silver, and Bronze medals to competitors who earned first, second and third-place finishes respectively to bring early Olympics in line with current awards”.

So there.

And bedsides, should the French really be feeling so smug about their overall performance?

While US swimmer Ryan Lochte (along with a few of his team mates) made a complete jackass of himself and embarrassed his fellow countrymen and women by “fabricating a story of being robbed at gunpoint”, some French competitors were also proving they could be equally farcical and unsportsmanlike..

After finishing fifth in the 100 metres backstroke final, French swimmer, Camille Lacourt,  decided he would take a pop at China’s 200 metres freestyle Gold medallist, Sun Yang.

Swimming is becoming as tainted as athletics, he told French radio “with two or three doped in each final.”

“Sun Yang, he pisses purple," said Lecourt, a reference to the Chinese swimmer having faced a three-month doping ban in 2014.

Lacourt later apologised saying he had been “frustrated” and “upset” with his own performance and his failure to secure a medal.

Apologies too from French pole vaulter (and world record holder) Renaud Lavillenie as he had not only to battle with home favourite Thiago Braz da Silva, but jeers and boos from fans in the stadium.

“I’ve never seen that before,” he told French television during the event. “Something like that has probably not happened since Jesse Owens appeared in Berlin in 1936.”

The clumsiest of remarks (to say the least) made in the heat of the moment, no doubt. And one Lavillenie regretted by Tweeting his apologies later.

But the crowd during the medal ceremony was equally unforgiving; once again booing Lavillenie and moving him to tears as he took Silver behind da Silva.

French pole vaulter Renaud Lavillenie in tears during medal ceremony (screenshot YouTube video)

No sign of an apology though from French tennis player Benoit Lepaire.

Quite the opposite really after he lost his second-round match and was then asked to “pack his bags” and effectively excluded from the French team at the Olympics by the French tennis federation's technical director Arnaud Di Pasquale.

The 27-year-old  Lepaire. had apparently decided his place was with his girlfriend (pop singer Shy’m) rather than fellow team mates at the Olympic village - as required by the French tennis federation.

Lacking both grace and humility, Lepaire retorted. "I have a different view of what is happening at the Olympics. I keep my opinions to myself. The federation, they are non-existent, so it is not very serious.”

Finally, throughout the Olympics, the French media simply couldn’t help itself.

While talking up this country’s performance, there was also the constant look to what was happening to “that lot” from across the Channel - Team GB.

Final medal table (screenshot France TV)

“How come the British were winning so many medals?” they asked innocently.

“How did a country with a population more or less the same size as France produce so many more medalists?”

“Lottery money, investment (time and professionalism), precise preparation for the Games, the exclusion of many Russians and the poor showing of the Chinese” were the sporting conclusions of a nation which, let’s face it, put in a pretty mediocre performance overall.

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