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Olympics2012Frenchman Yannick Agnel swimming's new superstar

Posted: Monday, July 30, 2012 | 08:39 PM

Categories: Olympics2012

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France's Yannick Agnel has taking the spotlight away from Americans Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte. (Matt Slocum/Associated Press) France's Yannick Agnel has taking the spotlight away from Americans Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte. (Matt Slocum/Associated Press)

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Frenchman Yannick Agnel has emerged as swimming's next great star and is stealing the spotlight away from Americans Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte.
It began with the hype: Michael Phelps vs. Ryan Lochte.

Then the accolades were bestowed upon Lochte after his impressive victory in the 400-metre individual medley, with Phelps kicked to the curb following his dismal effort.

Pundits were quick to crown Lochte "king of the pool."

But a funny thing happened on the way to Lochte's coronation. Since his gold-medal victory, Lochte has been seemingly reduced to bum-status by those same media types, and Phelps is still trying to find his groove.

All the while a 20-year-old French sensation is stealing the spotlight from his more famous rivals.

Someone, apparently, didn't advise Yannick Agnel his place in the pecking order. He wasn't supposed to out-Michael Phelps and both Americans to this point.

Yet after three days of Olympic swimming competition, it's Agnel standing with two gold medals draped around his neck - the first athlete to do so in London.

More impressively, his two victories have come at the expense of Lochte, making one of the American golden boys look downright silly in the last two days.

Agnel embarrasses Lochte

Lochte's nightmare started Sunday in the men's 4x100m freestyle relay. With the help of Phelps swimming the fastest U.S. leg, Lochte had a solid lead as the anchor, only to feel Agnel power past him in the final 25 metres.

"To be able to give France the gold medal in the relay gave him an inordinate amount confidence to build him up," said CBC Sports analyst Byron MacDonald.

The relay was just the appetizer. The main event was still ahead.

Often described as the glamour race of swimming, the men's 200m freestyle final on Monday was stacked with a star-studded field.

The event included world champion Lochte, 2008 Olympic silver medallist Park Tae-hwan of South Korea, 400m freestyle Olympic champion Sun Yang from China, and Germany world-record holder Peter Biedermann.

It didn't matter. Agnel left every single competitor in his dust.

For starters, the kid has the perfect combination of speed and endurance. He was able to get off to a quick start and hold it. Agnel's "wow" moment came during the final turn, where he pushed off like a torpedo and saw nothing but clear water to the finish.

The Frenchman was 0.79th of a second faster than silver medallists Park and Sun, who both tied for second place.

Lochte didn't even medal - hence the bum-status from his suddenly growing list of critics.

"He moved into the last turn fast and came out - he almost hydroplaned off the third turn - on his first stroke up off the wall and it was over. He then had all of his legs, all of his energy and the others guys couldn't match it," explained MacDonald, who predicted an Agnel victory in CBCSports.ca's swimming preview.

Not even the great Phelps, the Olympic champion in this event four years ago, could've touched Agnel on this day had he chosen to race.

Little attention for Agnel

His sterling performances may leave many wondering why so little attention was paid to him prior to the London Games. Most of that can be attributed to the Phelps-Lochte duel. Another factor is Agnel hasn't been a major factor on the international scene before the Olympics, with only one world relay silver medal to his credit.

It has nothing to do with Agnel's ability, just a strategy put together by his coaches. There was no doubt the Frenchman would turn out to be a superstar in the 200, but there was another consideration.

His coaches couldn't decide whether to put him in the 400 freestyle or the 100 for London. The moment they saw Agnel struggle in the 400 at the 2011 world championships, their next move was obvious.

"They bailed from the 400 and said 'we're not going to take on those two guys from Asia [Park and Sun] and we're going to focus on the 200 and 100. It was a brilliant coaching decision because he didn't spread himself too thin."

Agnel has a chance to cement his legacy at the London Olympic if he can win gold in the 100. The race won't be easy. He needs a similarly great performance to beat out American Nathan Adrian and Australia's James Magnussen on Wednesday.

But with the way he's looked so far, his opponents have to be in an uneasy place.

"He's posed to be dominant," said MacDonald. "For now he's the dominant guy in the 100 and 200 free."

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