France bank on swimmers at Beijing Olympics (Preview)

July 15th, 2008 - 4:20 pm ICT by IANS  

Beijing, July 15 (Xinhua) France will pin their medal hopes on swimmers and fencers at the Beijing Olympics in a bid to at least match their seventh-place finish in Athens Games, four years ago. The 1996 Atlanta Games saw France reach their apex as it bagged 15 gold, seven silver and 15 bronze medals to finish fifth on the medal tally.

But the next two Games saw the French running out of steam, as it slipped to sixth and seventh place respectively in 2000 and 2004.

French Secretary of State for Sports, Bernard Laporte, said early this month that they are targeting 40 medals in Beijing. The French had won 33 in Athens including 11 gold medals.

Things seem to be going according to plan as French athletes notched up 217 Olympic slots as of July 1, with more tickets to be confirmed in the remaining days.

The final entrants’ list is expected to hit 300, according to the French Olympic Committee.

The National Aquatic Centre, or Water Cube, is likely to become a hunting ground for France as the country boasts a contingent of swimmers capable of making some splashes; 33 swimmers have qualified for the Olympics next month. This is the maximum number of entries the country has won in any Olympic Games or world championships.

The Greek capital also saw arrival on the scene of multi-talented 17-year-old Laure Manoudou, who captured gold in the 400 metres freestyle, silver in the 800 metres freestyle and bronze in the 100 metres backstroke.

Since then she has developed into one of the most dominant female swimmers in the world.

In men’s category, Alain Bernard has emerged as a potential star of the Games having broken world 50 metres and 100 metres freestyle records at the European Championships in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, in March.

Bernard will spearhead a French 4×100m freestyle relay team that has potential of upsetting Americans and Australians. The French have two or three other swimmers who are expected to make it to the podium.

In fencing, Laura Flessel-Colovic will be the flag-bearer for the French and will be looking to retire from the national team with a third gold medal.

It might be tough for cycling to fuel the medal drive as Britain has emerged as the new powerhouse on the track dominating the recent world championships in Manchester.

The country can hardly count on athletics in the Olympics, especially after the French suffered an embarrassing moment of coming home empty-handed from last year’s world championships in Osaka, Japan.

The 110-metres hurdler Ladji Doucoure, the 2005 world champion, might be the only one to carry the country’s hopes on track and will pose a challenge to China’s defending champion Liu Xiang.

In tennis, former French Open winner Mary Pierce, Australian Open runner-up Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gael Monfils will be in the limelight.

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