Olympic 100m freestyle champion of 2008, Alain Bernard, 29, waved goodbye to swimming at a party thrown for him by his coach Denis Auguin at Antibes last night.
"For 15 years I wake up and I know I have days marked by the clock and training schedules. One day this adventure had to end and now I have to organise my life in a different way," said Bernard, who in beijing became only the second Frenchman and third French swimmer ever to claim Olympic gold, 56 years after Jean Boiteux became a pioneer of Gaul over 400m freestyle.
If Laure Manaudou doubled the size of Boiteux's club of French champions with victory in the same 400m event at Athens in 2004, then her brother Florent (50m free), Yannick Agnel (200m free), Camille Muffat (400m free) and the men's 4x100m free quartet of Amaury Leveaux, Fabien Gilot, Clement Lefert and Agnel boosted French standing in swimming history by taking the tally to seven Olympic swimming golds since it all began.
Bernard, who missed the 2007 100m world-title final in 2007 but scorched one of the world's best times later that year on his way to the European crown in world record time at the outset of shiny suits in 2008, will work in teacher training in water sports at a chain of resorts from next month. A volunteer in the Gendarmerie since 2008, he will soon leave his current attachment to the Groupement blindé de gendarmerie based in Versailles-Satory.
In Beijing, Bernard celebrated his (career) and France's finest hour that year with the 100m crown. He also claimed bronze in the 50m and took silver in the 4x100m freestyle, having entered the water ahead of Jason Lezak only to have the American register what remains the fastest shiny suit split ever (46.06) to grant the US gold. Bernard said he felt "wounded" but proved how dangerous wounded animals can be when he bounced back to claim the Olympic 100m crown.
In London, French swimmers talked of their relay gold ahead of the US as revenge for 2008. Bernard did not make the cut for the relay final in London and could not defend the 100m crown, having finished outside the top two at domestic Olympic trials.
The shark tattoo on his right hip was covered up for much of his time at the top, his best swims all at a moment when FINA allowed shiny suits in bodysuit cut not only to be worn but to boost performances beyond the natural capabilities of swimmers and skew results because the properties of the non-textile garments banned from January 1, 2010 favoured some body types and shapes more than others.
In 2008, after Bernard claimed the 50m and 100m world records at the European Championships in Eindhoven, L'Equipe published a cartoon of him posing as "Atlas", a huge body propping up a pin-sized head and the world itself.
Born May 1, 1983 in Aubagne, Bouches-du-Rhône, Bernard clocked 47.50sec for the world 100m record on March 22, 2008, shaving 0.1sec off the standard he had set the previous day. On March 23, he set a global standard of 21.50 in the 50m free.
In April 2009, Bernard clocked 46.94 at world-title trials in France. The time would have been a world record but he wore an arena X-Glide suit that had yet to be approved by FINA. The suit, made by his sponsor, was subsequently approved, for one summer as it turned out, by the international federation, and became the suit to end them all at the Rome 2009 world championships, with the highest tally of world records and gold medals won by swimmers wearing an X-Glide.