Marie Wattel’s Move to Loughborough Keyed Next Step on the World Level

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Marie Wattel made a huge sacrifice in 2016 in moving from France to Great Britain, and it has paid huge dividends for her. Photo Courtesy: Becca Wyant

Marie Wattel had been a mainstay on the French national team leading up to the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. Swimming in her first Olympics at 19, she finished 24th in the 100 butterfly, failing to make the semi finals. She had been on the French senior team for three years up to that point and had not advanced past the heats in the 100 butterfly at any of the Worlds or Olympics she competed in.

After training so hard for the Games, she took a month off from training and did some soul searching on what changes she would need to make for her career.

“I realized I didn’t want to train anymore in my French club,” Wattel told Swimming World while on a training camp in Fort Lauderdale. “I thought maybe it was an opportunity to see something new and leave France.”

After watching British swimmers Adam PeatyJazz Carlin and Siobhan O’Connor win individual medals in Rio, as well as the British men pick up two silver medals in relays, she thought maybe the UK would be a place she could go and train.

So Wattel contacted one of her best friends, who had dual nationality with France and Great Britain, who suggested she try out the training at Loughborough University per the recommendation from world class British breaststroker Jocelyn Ulyett. Wattel moved to Loughborough in October 2016 with the intention of staying only two months to see if she would like it there.

And she has been there ever since.

Moving to a new country can be difficult, and going from France to Great Britain was no different for Wattel, who admits she didn’t take her English classes in school as seriously as she should have.

“I was better in math and science but I never worked on the language. It was challenging,” Marie Wattel said. “My best friend came with me to Loughborough. When I asked her about it, she said she wanted to try it too and so we ended up both going and she really helped me get to know people because she was speaking the language.”

“I really hoped to talk to people and translate something and now it is way better. But at the beginning it was tough because I wanted to talk and show who the real Marie is, but it was complicated because I didn’t have the words to explain how I felt. It was tough but now it’s been three years and I feel really better now.”

Team FRANCE Gold Medal WATTEL Marie BONNET Charlotte FABRE Margaux GASTALDELLO Beryl 4X100m Women Freestyle Final Glasgow 03/08/18 Swimming Tollcross International Swimming Centre LEN European Aquatics Championships 2018 European Championships 2018 Photo Giorgio Scala/ Deepbluemedia /Insidefoto

Wattel (far right) poses with a gold medal in the 4×100 free relay at the 2018 European Championships. Photo Courtesy: Giorgio Scala/ Deepbluemedia /Insidefoto

Wattel trains with Ian Hulme at Loughborough University in Great Britain alongside Ulyett and other world class swimmers, and is taking her swimming more seriously.

“I’m more mature now and I realized I really want to train like a professional athlete. I don’t think that was the case before because I didn’t really realize my potential. I never thought I could do what I do now in terms of times and I think Loughborough gave me the opportunity to be more professional and have more support. I think that’s why I’m faster now.”

It didn’t all happen right away.

In 2017 after one year in Loughborough, she didn’t even qualify for the World Championships. So in 2019 when she made the Worlds team for France, she knew this would be a major test for her; needing to prove herself that she belonged after being disappointed in so many international meets.

And in Gwangju she blew her expectations out of the water.

Not only did she finally advance past the heats, placing sixth at 57.23, but she advanced all the way to the final, blasting a 57.00 in the semi-finals for the third overall seed. After being on the senior team for six years and never getting past the heats, it was a huge breakthrough mentally.

“I think I was expecting to do that but when I did it I didn’t really believe it because every time I was hoping something, it didn’t happen.”

But being in the final in lane 3, alongside world record holder Sarah Sjostrom, was not expected. And Wattel believes she may have put too much pressure on herself.

“I didn’t expect to be lane 3 and I would rather be lane 7 or 1 with less pressure maybe,” Marie Wattel said.

“I didn’t want to be in this favorite position but I think it wasn’t too bad to be honest. I could do worse than that. I’m really happy to do 3 good 100 butterflys and I gained experience.”

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Marie Wattel walking out for the 50 fly at the World Championships. Photo Courtesy: Becca Wyant

Wattel finished eighth in her first Worlds final in the 100 fly at 57.29. It was slower than she swam in the heats and semis, but swimming in the final and realizing she was among the best in the world gave her the confidence to achieve the same feat in the non-Olympic 50 butterfly later in the meet where she was able to manage the pressure better.

In the 50 fly final, she was again in lane 3, and again next to Sjostrom. Wattel placed fifth with a new French record of 25.50, just missing a medal by 0.03.

Swimming so well finally in an international meet allowed Wattel to believe that anything could happen. She brings up her rival Sjostrom, who took the silver in the 100 butterfly to 19-year-old Maggie MacNeil at World Championships, suffering her first loss in that event in five years.

It was a huge upset and a big surprise when MacNeil took down the world record holder and reigning Olympic champion Sjostrom. The Swede, who had won four of the last five 100 butterfly World titles to that point, was the huge favorite. But all MacNeil needed was a lane in the final to pull off the upset.

Having a lane in the eight-woman final was the confidence Wattel needed to pursue a higher finish in 2020 at the Olympic Games.

“I realized maybe I’ve got a shot, we never know. I think if I got my lane in the final then anything is possible. That’s the way I want to think about it. I want to qualify for the final and keep my fingers crossed from there. I have less mental barriers now.”

Wattel will have a chance to qualify for her second Olympic Games in April at the French Nationals. With the experience she gained from swimming in the Worlds final, she finally has the confidence to chase that Olympic medal. And that leap of faith she took in 2016 to move to Loughborough will have paid off big time for her.