After Europe and the world, Matthieu Androdias and Hugo Boucheron have now ticked off another box on their list of achievements – an Olympic gold! The French duo won the double sculls in Tokyo on Wednesday, giving France its third title and eighth medal in these Olympic Games.
Their Olympic title follows in the wake of Jérémie Azou and Pierre Houin, who were crowned in 2016 in Rio, after a gold drought for French rowing that had lasted since 2004.
"Today we got the star we have been aiming for for a long time. It's a medal between friends, that we went to get, a celebration of the bond we have built over time,” they told French news agency AFP after their victory.
Androdias, 31, and Boucheron, 28, who were crowned European champions in April for the second time, were among the main contenders for the title and they did not disappoint.
After finishing first in their heats and semi-finals, they beat the Netherlands and world champions China in the final.
Frustration as fuel
Yet the Olympic race, like their journey, was not a smooth one.
They started out in the lead and made two "false starts" (rowing out of the water), one each, which could have been fatal.
The French pair, who have been rowing together since 2015, had a fine record of achievement before this Olympic title, including a world championship title in 2018 and a double at the European Championships (2018, 2021), but were also coming back from difficult years.
Illness for Boucheron in 2019, then Covid for both of them, a sixth place in Rio, a qualification for Tokyo snatched in pain, failed World Championships in 2019.
"We won every time in the semi-finals, and then we missed out. There was a lot of misunderstanding and questioning. At times we almost hung up our spades. We had to completely deconstruct ourselves in order to rebuild ourselves stronger," says Androdias, an engineer by training.
Both men are delighted and do not rule out the possibility of continuing until the Paris Games in 2024. "We still have things to do. We are not yet the best version of ourselves. I want to see how far we can go," he concludes.
US' Simone Biles pulls out
Elsewhere, US superstar Simone Biles pulled out of a second Tokyo Olympics gymnastics competition to protect her mental health on Wednesday, raising serious doubt over her participation in the rest of the Games.
A day after her shock exit from the team event, USA Gymnastics said the 24-year-old had also withdrawn from the individual all-around competition at the Ariake Gymnastics Centre.
The American arrived in Japan as one of the headline acts of the pandemic-postponed 2020 Games, shouldering an immense weight of expectation as she pursued a record-equalling nine career Olympic titles.
But she withdrew from the team competition after a shaky opening vault, and her struggles mean she may be unable to add to the four gold medals she won at the 2016 Rio Games.
"After further medical evaluation, Simone Biles has withdrawn from the final individual all-around competition at the Tokyo Olympic Games, in order to focus on her mental health," USA Gymnastics said in a statement.
Dutch demand fresh air
Dutch Olympic athletes in hotel quarantine after testing positive for Covid-19 said they went on "strike" over a lack of fresh air in their rooms, winning 15 minutes a day at an open window.
All six isolated team members from the Netherlands took part in the protest in the hotel lobby, said taekwondo fighter Reshmie Oogink, 31, who joked on Instagram that she was in "Olympic jail".
Tokyo 2020 athletes are tested daily while in Japan and if they are positive they must isolate or be hospitalised.
Oogink, who had been due to compete in the women's +67kg category on Tuesday, told AFP she and the others had been "locked up for several days with no fresh air".
They can only leave their rooms to collect food, which is "every day the same", she said.