The French women are in the midst of completely overhauling their program, with Véronique Legras Snoek returning as head coach following the recent world championships.
The French women are in the midst of completely overhauling their program, a necessary step in order to bring the team back to the top ranks of women's gymnastics, assistant coach Dimitru (Nellu) Pop told IG this week.
In addition to the shuffling of the coaching staff, France's gymnasts will be allowed to stay with their original coaches instead of being required to move to the national training center, Pop said. And the French are getting back to work immediately, with a controlled test for 2016 hopefuls held last week after the world championships.
Former French head coach Eric Demay's contract was not renewed following the 2013 Worlds.
"In order for France to come back as a real force into the international hierarchy, we must change the system," Pop said. "The system of permanent relocation does not work in France. Thus, there's already been changes. There will be high-level national training centers, spread geographically, at INSEP, Marseille, Saint-Étienne, Dijon, Meaux and Toulon."
Following the recent world championships in Antwerp, Véronique Legras Snoek returned as the head coach for the French women's team, with assistant coaches regionally. Legras Snoek will be in Marseille, Pop at INSEP (Institut National du Sport, de l'Expertise et de la Performance) in Paris, and 1992 Olympian Marie-Angéline Colson in Saint-Étienne.
Former national team member Sophie Darrigade (36th all-around at the 1985 Europeans in Helsinki) was appointed the new women's program manager in August. (Her brother, 1992 and 1996 Olympian Sébastien Darrigade, is on the French men's national coaching staff.)
The contracts for former head coach Éric Demay and assistant coach Cécile Pellerin Demay were not renewed after Antwerp, which concluded several years of declining results since the husband-and-wife coaching pair took over the team in 2009.
France qualified to the team finals at the Olympics in 2004 (sixth) and 2008 (seventh). Under the Demays, the French women finished 11th at the 2010 Worlds, 10th at the 2011 Worlds and third at the 2012 Pre-Olympic qualification event, earning them a berth to the 2012 Olympics.
After a rash of injuries, France finished 11th out of 12 teams at the 2012 Olympics in London. In 2013, no French women were sent to the European championships in Moscow, and only two went to the world championships. National champion Valentine Sabatou had a disastrous qualification competition in Antwerp, scoring a 0.000 for a botched vault, 13.166 on uneven bars, 11.666 on balance beam and 12.833 on floor exercise.
2012 Olympian Mira Boumejian finished 52nd in qualification, nearly 5 points away from qualifying for the all-around final in Antwerp.
"What happened to the French women at the world championships in Antwerp? I really don't know," Pop said. "What I do know is that there is a new generation arriving next year, that France has very good coaches and that everyone will be concentrating their efforts to ensure that France qualifies to the 2016 Olympic Games!"
Claire Martin (Dijon) will be a senior in 2014
For several years, Legras Snoek had been assistant coach to Yves Kieffer, whose most successful pupils were 2004 Olympic gold medalist Emilie LePennec and world and European medalist Isabelle Severino. After accusations of abusive coaching from gymnast Chloé Briand that resulted in a lawsuit, the French Gymnastics Federation asked Kieffer to resign in early 2008. (Kieffer is now the head coach of the Belgian women's team, which just missed qualification to the 2012 Olympics by just over 1 point and had two gymnasts, Laura Waem and Gaelle Mys, qualify to the all-around final in Antwerp.)
Legras Snoek, who had served as assistant coach to Kieffer, took over as head coach until 2009, when the Demays returned to France to take control of the team. (Ironically, the Demays had coached in Switzerland from 2000 to 2007 until accusations of abusive coaching led to their dismissal.)
France is ready to implement a new system modeled after the programs of other successful western nations, Pop said, with the gymnasts allowed to stay with their coaches as they rise through the ranks. The gymnasts would train at their home clubs and meet regularly at national and regional training camps.
"There will be a system of periodic training camps, similar to the USA, Great Britain and Australia," Pop said. "The system would most likely resemble that of Australia."
The Romanian-born Pop, who formerly served as an assistant to Octavian Bellu through the 1992 Olympic Games, helped coached Ludivine Furnon to the silver medal on floor at the 1995 Worlds in Sabae, the first world championship medal for the French women.
France has the talent and coaching to once again be among the top teams in the world, Pop said. The best French finish in history was at the 1997 Worlds in Lausanne, where the team composed of Furnon, Severino, Elvire Teza, Cécile Canqueteau, Magalie Ruffato and Emilie Volle placed fifth, defeating the reigning Olympic champion U.S. team.
Pop said the controlled training, held Oct. 11-13 at INSEP, featured 27 hopefuls for the 2016 Olympics. Gymnasts also earned assignments for upcoming competitions, including the Combs-La-Ville and Elite Gym Massilia tournaments in France, and an upcoming junior tri-meet among France, Germany and Switzerland.
Clara Chambellant (Dijon)
Pop said Louise Vanhille (Saint-Étienne) and Claire Martin (Dijon) were absent from the camp as they already showed their readiness at July's European Youth Olympic Festival (EYOF) in Utrecht.
"Louise and Claire didn't take part in the test because they were at the EYOF, so their preparation has already started," Pop said. "They are the best two gymnasts of their generation."
The group included a few gymnasts who will be seniors in 2014, plus 10 gymnasts born in 1999 and 10 in 2000. Several will be names to watch for in the next three years, Pop said.
"The control was of very good quality," he said. "It was Grâce Charpy, Maëlys Plessis, Farah Boufadene, Loan His and Clara Chambellant who gave a very beautiful performance. For the young ones born in 2000, it was Mélanie De Jesus Dos Santos and Oréane Léchenault who were the most impressive."
Pop told IG he is confident that the fresh start for France will bring positive results in the coming years.
"The emulation [of the Western system] is going to create competition [among the gymnasts and coaches]," he said. "The program will give rise to technical progression and motivation for coaches who can accompany their gymnasts for testing, instead of losing their gymnasts!"
External Link: French Gymnastics Federation