PARIS (Reuters) - A year ago, kayaker Fabien Lefevre had a broken bone in his wrist and was nursing a bruised ego.
Strong favorite to win gold in Athens in 2004, the Frenchman had finished with a bronze medal. Lefevre’s failure upset him badly and he kept away from the circuit for two years during which time he married a top model and had a young son.
Noe will turn two on August 8, the day of the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics.
Lefevre, now fit and mentally revived, has promised his family, and the other French kayakers he beat to qualify for the Games, that this time he will return with the gold.
“I am ready for Beijing. I feel good and I deserve this title,” Lefevre told Reuters.
Throughout his career, Lefevre has been known for his confidence and independent spirit as well as skill on the water.
He had the perfect run-up to the Athens Games by winning the world championship in K-1 (single kayak) in 2002 and 2003, and was rated one of France’s great gold medal hopes.
However, living in the Olympic village and watching the other competitors and events whittled away at Lefevre’s concentration and it was compatriot Benoit Peschier who returned to Paris with the gold.
The next two to three years were a struggle for Lefevre, nicknamed “Fabulous Fab,” who has had a difficult relationship with the French federation.
He kept away from top flight competition and the 25-year-old admits now he was his own worst enemy. He entered the world championships in 2006 where he came fifth and once again it was a compatriot, Julien Billaut, who took gold.
“That was a first smack in the face,” Lefevre said in an interview.
The second came when he realized the battle for an Olympic spot would be tough because only one kayaker per country would go to Beijing and there were at least five Frenchmen in with a chance.
Then in February last year, Lefevre hit rock bottom. He broke his wrist and was out of action for two months.
“I was in hell,” he said.
While his rivals trained hard, Lefevre had to be content with running and bodybuilding sessions. He was ruled out of the world championships in September in Brazil where Sebastien Combot, another Frenchman, won the gold medal.
“This definitely upset me. It was a blow to my pride. Somehow, his title put me back on track because I managed to turn my anger into a strategy,” said Lefevre.
The French selectors organized a winner-takes-all competition in March to pick the sole K-1 qualifier and Lefevre clinched the Beijing spot before the final race.
”In March, I beat the defending Olympic champion and the last two world champions to qualify for the Olympics. As a mark of respect for those who I have not been easy on, I can’t say I‘m going to Beijing just to be on the podium.
“I want to be Olympic champion. I owe them this title.”
Lefevre says he has learned from his mistakes in Athens and will treat the Beijing Olympics like any other competition.
”In Athens, I paddled thinking what I would do with my gold medal. As a consequence, I ended up with a bronze medal.
”But if after my two world titles I had won an Olympic gold medal, what would I have become? Would I have continued ?
”Anyway, I would never have gained that technical mastery I now have. Nowadays, I paddle more with my brains.
“I am now armed to instigate victory, not to just think of it. I am extremely serene and have an unwavering faith in myself.”
Editing by Robert Woodward