July 31, 2008
By Gary Thorne
Earning a spot to represent one's country in the Olympic Games is the pinnacle of achievement for any athlete. For that person to do it three times is nothing short of mind-blowing.
Former Auburn swimmer Fred Bousquet is approaching the final stages of preparation to represent France for a third consecutive Olympics, and he's doing it at Auburn University.
"I'm very happy that I made the decision to come back," said Bousquet. "We're doing a 10-day cycle right now - very intense. After that we're going to relax a little bit."
A native of Perpignan, a city just three miles from the Mediterranean in the south of France, Bousquet arrived at Auburn in January 2003 and had an immediate impact. At Auburn, he claimed six NCAA individual titles and was the first person to ever swim the 50-yard freestyle in under 19 seconds.
"I'm excited to come back and take my time here just as if I were doing a training camp," said Bousquet. "I'm spending my two months here just working, not paying attention to anything going on outside campus. There are distractions here just like anywhere else. The Olympics are way too important for distractions."
Part of the decision to return to Auburn for training, according to Bousquet, was the arrival of former Tiger and two-time Australian Olympian Brett Hawke as an assistant to head coach Richard Quick. While a student-athlete, Hawke was a 17-time All-American and claimed nine NCAA individual titles and is currently working directly with Auburn's sprinters.
"Swimming wasn't going very well and I made the decision to return to Auburn after seeing Brett (Hawke) was coaching here. After his results in the last two NCAA Championships, I was very impressed," said Bousquet.
"I also saw that Scott Goodrich got a bronze at the World University Games last summer and I was like, `Whoa, Brett must be good!' That's why I asked to come back here and they were ok with it. I'm very happy with that."
Once back in Auburn, Bousquet found himself surrounded by familiar faces - former teammates and fellow competitors alike. The world of Olympic competition is a small one and Auburn Swimming and Diving does not fall short of producing an impressive amount of talent - 11 swimmers in the 2008 Olympics alone. With that in mind, it's nothing out of the ordinary for athletes who are directly competing against one another to train lane-by-lane in the same pool under the same coach.
For Bousquet, that situation has arisen in the forms of Cesar Cielo and Alexei Puninski.
"I'll be in direct competition with Alexei," said Bousquet. "We're both doing the 100 fly in the Olympics. I'll also be in competition with Cesar Cielo just for the relays. It doesn't put any tension between us. We don't even think about it honestly.
"Until the day of the race, we are thinking about pushing each other and trying to make the other better. That's our spirit right now. It's what Brett asks of us and I think it's the best way to do it."
Just like two favorites approaching the finish side-by-side, Hawke's pupils see their competition next to them and it pushes them that much harder to succeed.
"I didn't want him to compare himself to everyone in the group," said Hawke. "There's no reason for these guys to get out here and race the competition at practice. He's one of those guys with a competitive spirit. They all are. It's going to be good in the long term for them to be next to each other in practice."
Bousquet made quite the anticipated splash at the French Olympic Trials in April, earning a spot competing for the 100 butterfly and likely positions on the 4x100 medley and 4x100 freestyle relays.
In the 100m butterfly, Bousquet's time of 51.50 set a new national record and will be heading to Beijing ranked third in the world for the 100-fly.
Anchoring the winning 4x100 medley relay team, Bousquet helped set a new French trials record and neared the French record with their 3:14.81. Three of the four members of the squad were part of the short course 4x100 freestyle relay world record 3:08.29 in December 2007.
Bousquet narrowly missed the opportunity to compete in two additional events, the 50m and 100m freestyle.
"France has been doing very well as far as sprinting for the past two or three years now," said Bousquet. "We have very good sprinters in France."
So good that Bousquet, previous short course world record holder in the 50 free, finished third in French qualifying. Although his semifinal time of 51.60 at the French trials was the fourth fastest worldwide in 2007-08, he did not make the cut. In the 100m-free, Bousquet again finished in third, just outside of qualification, but good enough for a relay berth.
Before his return to Auburn, Bousquet spent much of 2007 in France, training with CN Marseilles and preparing for a master's degree.
"I had a great time in France," said Bousquet. "Marseilles was a new city for me. Going around and seeing French people and all my friends and family was a very good feeling. I studied and swam - I mainly studied. I was about to start a master's degree in sports management."
With the Olympic Games just around the corner, the time for preparation was at hand and Bousquet made the decision to temporarily put up the books.
"It's something that I've put on hold this year and I plan to finish after the Olympics," said Bousquet. "I'd like to stay in France and either work for a management company or possibly start my own company - that would be the ideal situation.
"I just want to stay involved in the world of sport. It could be swimming where I know I could be good at it but it could be any other sport. Soccer is very big in France and I would love to work with it as well. I'm also very into the sport of tennis."
As of right now, plans after the Olympics are just that - after the Olympics. It's coming up on crunch time for Bousquet and his competitors. Final preparations are being made and soon all nations will be rounding up their athletes in their respective camps.
"Making a third Olympics is something I'm very proud of," said Bousquet. "This year it was hard going into trials not really knowing how I was swimming. They were very hard for me. Making the team in the 100-fly and the relays was a big achievement."