Born in Aubagne, Bouches-du-Rhône, France, Alain Bernard trained at a local club until the age of 16, when he switched to Club Marseille to train under coach Denis Auguin. He made slow but steady progress until 2007, a break-out year in which he set the French record in the 100m freestyle and later claimed his first European Championship title in the same event. Then, at the European Championships in March 2008, he set his first world records, winning the 50m and 100m freestyle. A month later he qualified for the Beijing Olympic Games in both events.
Alain’s experience in Beijing began with bitter disappointment, when the USA took the gold medal from the favored French team in the 4x100m freestyle relay. In addition, he also lost his world record to Eamon Sullivan who led off Australia’s relay with a phenomenal swim.
Alain reclaimed his record two days later in his 100m freestyle semi-final swim, before losing it again to Sullivan in his semi. In the final, however, it was Alain Bernard who won the gold medal, and with his victory, he became France’s first male Olympic gold medalist since Jean Boiteaux, who won the 400m freestyle at the 1952 Helsinki Olympic Games.
The next day he won a bronze medal in the 50m freestyle event and left Beijing with three medals, each of a different metal.
The next year, Alain ushered in the shiny suit era by becoming the first swimmer to break the 47 second barrier in the 100m freestyle, breaking Sullivan’s record with a time of 46.94 seconds. Unfortunately, the suit he wore was not approved by FINA and his record was unrecognised.
Leading up to the 2012 Olympic Games in London, Alain continued to be among the world’s top sprinters and although he missed qualifying in individual events, he was a member of the French 4x100m freestyle relay that finally won the gold, after knocking on the door of greatness for most of his career. Upon returning to France at the age of 29, he announced his retirement as his country’s most decorated Olympic swimmer, owning a total of four medals (two gold, one silver and one bronze) from two Olympic Games, Beijing and London.
Today he continues to share his love of swimming in his role as ambassador and technical advisor for the French AquaSphere brand of swim equipment.