Born to medley, Marchand closes in on Phelps
Leon Marchand arrived sooner and faster than he had expected.
The 20-year-old Frenchman swum the second fastest time in the history of the men's 400m medley on Saturday as he scorched to the title in the World Championships in Budapest.
"Now I can call myself a good swimmer," he said happily after swimming 4min 4.28sec.
The record he is chasing, 4:03.84, has an aura. It is the oldest in any Olympic distance, and was set by the legendary Michael Phelps at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 - a day before Phelps helped set the second-oldest record in the 400m freestyle relay.
On Saturday evening, after a ferocious third leg in the breaststroke, Marchand was inside world record pace before fading slightly in the freestyle.
Marchand was giddy as he talked to the media.
"I really didn't think I would swim 4:04," he said.
"I hit the wall and saw the little light that said we were first. It's really huge, a 'wow' feeling. I think I still don't realise what I did today, but in any case I enjoyed it."
"I was struggling a little bit in the crawl," he said. "But I think next time I could do it."
Young Leon won his world gold 24 years after his father Xavier took silver in the 200m medley in Perth, Australia.
The son will race that event later in the championship. He is also entered in the 200m butterfly.
Leon swum those three events in Tokyo. He was sixth in the 400m medley, reached the semi-final in the fly but did not make it past the heats in the 200m medley.
- Family affair -
Leon's mother Celine Bonnet held the French records for 100m and 200m medleys.
"It means a lot because my mother always gave me a lot of advice on 400m medley, my father too," he said.
"The 400m medley, is a good all-around swim. There is a little bit of everything in it," he said.
"Now I can call myself a good swimmer because I can do a little bit of everything and I swam 4.04, that's the second fastest time in history.
"I'm super happy because some of my family came to see me, so that was pretty cool."
Marchand is pursuing Phelps with help from the American star's former mentor, Bob Bowman.
After Tokyo, Marchand left his native Toulouse to move to Arizona State University where Bowman coaches.
"Bob creates an environment for me every day in training that allows me to work really hard and improve, whether it's mentally or physically," Marchand explained.
"Every workout is interesting. When I come out of practice, I say to myself 'I improved that'. It's concrete.
"I don't do laps for the sake of doing laps. I feel that I am more efficient in what I do. As I approach competitions, he gives me a lot of serenity, he has a very precise plan."
Marchand qualified fastest in the morning heats, then had to wait for the evening finals.
"I tried to think of something other than swimming," he said.
"I try to stay a little bit apart otherwise my head will explode. I had the best time in the semi-finals so it's not easy. I think now I can handle it better."
Even though he was fastest in the morning, Marchand did not unveil the sizzling speed he has developed in the breaststroke until the final.
"I didn't hold back too much this morning, I still swam fast. I did the right things and tonight I really let loose."
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