For some, the European Championships that get underway in Debrecen, Hungary, this morning, will be a race set in training for others a peak moment, with many a performance falling somewhere in between those two ends of a campaign. For Jeremy Stravius, the European showcase may be the highlight of his post-world-title Olympic season on backstroke, a chance to prove himself capable of bouncing back.
Joint world champion with teammate Camille Lacourt in an historic 100m backstroke race (the first world title for any French man in any event at world titles; France has never had a medal in the event before; no one nation has ever shared gold in any event in the history of the championships since they began in 1973; no backstroke crown has ever been shared, men or women at world long-course level), Stravius finished third at French Olympic trials in March. No encore in the Olympic pool in his best event.
Ahead of him were Lacourt and Benjamin Stasiulis, his training partner for the past season at Amiens with coach Michel Chrétien. After trials, Stasiulis also on the team for what may be his stronger event, the 200m, sent a message to Stravius, Clementine Blondet of L'Equipe reports.
"Benjamin sent me a really nice message telling me that I was still the best backstroke swimmer," Stravius tells Blondet. "It made me happy, but I was slow to respond," he notes, his need to put things in their place (third and out) important, however painful. Later, the friends and rivals spoke and came to an understanding.
If France and Stasiulis wanted nothing else, there is still technical scope for having Stravius in the 100m backstroke at the Olympic Games, all three podium placers at French trials having made the FINA A cut for London 2012. There is, however, no Thorpian agreement (in 2004, the Australian fell off his blocks at the start of the 400m free and was unable to race to qualify for the defence of his Olympic crown but a way was found to have him in the Olympic race when Craig Stevens stepped aside).
After the Amiens teammates had talked through their new-found status, Stravius felt "liberated", able to return to the fray with renewed gusto. "He's happy to come training again," Chrétien tells Blondet, Stasiulis adding: He has no desire for revenge but to perform. Each day he finds his desire, his aggression, it's nice to see."
Stravius, who will be at London 2012 for relay action on freestyle, progressed to semis of the 100m backstroke in Debrecen this morning in 55.21sec. His mission in his own words: "I want to show that I'm still here, one of the best backstrokers in Europe and the world, an elite swimmer. And I want to see how I respond in the water to the failure in Dunkirk."