Yannick Agnel tells Le Figaro today: "Limits are an invention of man". France's double Olympic champion of London 2012, has placed a world crown at the top of his menu for 2013 after a stellar year that included Olympic silver to add to his golden brace, world and world textile records and European titles.
After the Games in London, Agnel, coached by Fabrice Pellerin at Nice alongside fellow Olympic champion Camille Muffat, suffered no sense of anti-climax, he tells reporter Emmanuel Quintin. When he got back into training in September, Agnel saw only "a blank page" on which he could write his next chapter.
He said: "Now that I'm Olympic champion, I'm going to swim to swim. I will always have a goal and it is precisely because I am Olympic champion that I feel more motivated. I've never been world long-course champion. I would like a worlds medal - or even several [at Barcelona 2013 in July and August]."
Asked about world records, Agnel said that his goal was not "to chase the clock". Great things happen, he suggested, if the swimmer focusses "everything" on "technique, desire, pace". Everything follows when the pawn makes his move - step by step, he added. "At Angers [French s/c nationals], I broke the world record in the 400m [free] when I was expecting anything but." Surprising oneself by "creating something magnificent" through process is part of the thrill that makes the robotic nature of working towards a goal worth the while, Agnel notes. As to limits, he adds: "I think limits are an invention of man that enables him to avoid doing something serene".
He had not approached London 2012 with thoughts of medals and times, his focus on getting all parts of the puzzle he had built in place for the big race(s). Reflecting on the Games, he says: "I thought that a medal would be nice, a title, it would be really cool. In the end, I left with two gold medals (200m free, 4x100m free) and a silver medal (4x200m). I had a crazy week. It was … not unexpected, but just great."
The 200m was where his heart was approaching London 2012, Agnel admitted, but the unexpected victory of the 4x100m free relay over the US and Russia, Australia's golden hopes shot off the podium, will live with him forever. "I still do not know the time we did, but I remember, after touching the wall, seeing the delight on the faces of Clement (Lefert), Amaury (Leveaux) and Fabien (Gilot). That evening with Clement, who was in the same room as me, we didn't sleep." Agnel said that the two lay down on their beds, eyelids closed but "exploding inside … It seemed that the lights were on and it would never stop."
Success had not changed his life beyond "other swimmers" looking a little worried when they see him, a few folk stopping him in the street, and the responsibility he feels to give back to those who supported him and the sport he loves. He has no desire to be seen as a "team leader" for France. "It's not a role that suits me well," he tells Le Figaro. There are older more experienced team members better able to shoulder the responsibility, he feels.
Asked how long he will stay in the sport he replies: "I do not see myself swimming past 30. It is not so much the repetition of training rather that I will want to try something else … study, travel, work ... It would be a shame to confine myself to the world of swimming."