Laure Manaudou was born on October 9, 1986 in Villeurbanne, France. She swam for the club of Ambérieu-en-Bugey, in Ain, from the age of 6 to 14 years old. In 2000, coach Philippe Lucas spotted her and convinced her parents that he would make her a champion. She then left the family nest to join her new coach in Melun, and a year later she won two silver medals at the European Junior Championships in Malta. Everyone started talking about her enormous potential.
In 2003, at the age of 16, Manaudou won her first French national title in the 50m backstroke. The following year she took gold in the five individual events (400m, 800m, 1500m freestyle, 50m and 100m backstroke) at the French Nationals and qualified for her first Olympic team. In Athens, a few months later, she won the gold medal in the 400m freestyle. It was France’s first gold medal ever in women’s swimming and the first swimming gold medal won by a French athlete since Jean Boiteux’s victory in the 400m men’s freestyle event at Helsinki in 1952. Manaudou also won the silver medal in the women’s 800m freestyle and the bronze medal in the women’s 100m backstroke, thus becoming only the second French woman to win three medals in a single Olympic Games, Summer or Winter.
In 2005, she defended her world title in the 400m freestyle at the FINA World Championships. At the French Championships in 2006, she did what many thought was impossible. For eighteen years, women swimmers had been chasing the seemingly untouchable record set by America’s Janet Evans in the 400m freestyle at the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games. There was reason to believe it would last for eternity, but Laure Manaudou finally broke it and she lowered Evans’ standard again at the European Championship three months later.
She confirmed her status as a favorite to repeat as Olympic champion in Beijing, by winning five medals including two gold, two silver and one bronze at the 2007 World Swimming Championships in Melbourne, Australia. Shortly thereafter, she signed a sponsorship contract for five years for a sum of money that would be close to one million euros a year. The same year, on May 6, 2007, she decided to part with coach Philippe Lucas to train in Italy.
Manaudou was the star of French swimming and a real hope of multiple medals at Beijing 2008, but by her own admission 2007 was a crazy year as personal issues interfered with her training. After a season where she had four coaches and a loss of motivation, Laure finished a disappointing eighth in the 400m freestyle final and seventh in the 100m backstroke.
She announced her retirement in early 2009, but living in the United States two years later, started training again. Although she qualified for the London Olympic Games in the 100m and 200m backstroke, she failed to advance beyond the preliminaries. She once again announced her retirement and left the international aquatic stage as she started it, after winning the 50m backstroke at the European (SC) Championships in November of 2013.
In 2014, Laure released her autobiography, Entre Les Lignes (Between The Lines). It is a candid, honest account of her life in competitive swimming, with its sacrifices, its ups and downs, her relationships with her brothers, coaches, love life and the challenges she faced dealing with fame at an early age.
Triple Olympic medalist, three-time world champion, 18-time European champion and 58 time champion of France, Laure Manaudou enters the ISHOF as the best female swimmer in French history.