LONDON (Reuters) - Yannick Agnel, a 20-year-old Frenchman who reads the poetry of Charles Baudelaire between races to relax, produced a second performance in his country’s best romantic traditions at the Olympic pool on Monday.
Agnel had swum a remarkable final leg on the previous evening to overhaul American Ryan Lochte and seize an unexpected men’s 4x100 metres freestyle relay gold medal for France.
On Monday he led from the start to win the 200 metres freestyle after all eyes had this time been trained on Lochte and China’s Sun Yang.
Smooth, powerful and controlled, Agnel won by more than second and a half from Sun and South Korea’s Park Tae-hwan, who tied for second with Lochte finishing out of the medals.
The upshot was three gold medals in 24 hours for France, whose President Francois Hollande was present poolside on Monday, following Camille Muffat’s women’s 400 freestyle gold on Sunday.
They are second only to the United States on the swimming medals table after three days of competition.
Both Agnel and Muffet are coached by Fabrice Pellerin, who according to French reporters, once told the former: “Forget about literature, concentrate on swimming.”
Agnel was apparently also absent minded and inclined to lose concentration, faults that had clearly been rectified.
“We are pleased because it’s a reward for very, hard work,” Agnel said.
Agnel said the French had felt no pressure on Sunday where all the attention had been on the Australians’ boast that they were “weapons of mass destruction” who would overwhelm the United States.
“That was a great day for the French team,” he said. “We thought that we would give it our all too see what happened.”
He said Monday’s 200 freestyle field was probably the strongest of the competition, a sentiment echoed by Lochte.
Sun, the winner of the 400 freestyle and the first Chinese man to win an Olympic title, said this had been his first competitive outing over 200 at international level.
“This is the first time a Chinese guy has competed in the 200 metres,” said Sun who has four days to finalise his preparations for his more favoured 1500 freestyle in which he is the world champion and record holder.
“We had never dreamed of being on the podium. This has boosted Chinese men’s swimming.”
Editing by Greg Stutchbury