Shaken and stirred, Bernard takes gold
Friday, 15 August 2008

BEIJING, Aug 14 ( - Frenchman Alain Bernard completed his remarkable rise from obscurity when he took the Beijing Olympics 100 metres freestyle gold medal on Thursday, overcoming nerves that left his legs shaking on the starting blocks.

Little over a year ago, few outside of swimming's most informed had heard of Bernard, who had switched to freestyle after failing to make the grade in backstroke and medley.

Since March though, Bernard has broken the world record in 100 metres freestyle three times including Wednesday's semi-final.

His Beijing experience was in danger of being remembered for the wrong reasons after he was swum down on the last stroke of the 4x100 metres freestyle relay by American Jason Lezak.

Thursday, however, was a different story. Lezak ended in a dead heat for bronze with Brazilian Cesar Cielo Filho, 0.46 behind Bernard's time of 47.21. World record holder Eamon Sullivan Australia took the silver medal.

"My legs were shaking at the start. I was really tense, just like the other seven guys," said Bernard. "At the 80 metres mark I was hurting, but I told myself, 'Hang on, hang on.' I did what my coach told me, 'don't panic'.

"Even in the last five metres, I knew it was very tight and that I wouldn't win until I had my hand on the wall. I already had a race where someone got there just before me - I didn't want it to happen again," he said.

"My first thought was - 'that's it, I've won the final'. It is so hard to believe," added Bernard, who hails from the small southern French town of Aubagne, best known as the headquarters of the French Foreign Legion.

Bernard might have been tempted to sign up if he had followed his relay disappointment with another second place and he said he had found it tough to cope with letting gold slip.

"The relay loss was very hard to take.

"I took it to heart. I was the last guy and it was on my shoulder," he said before crediting his coach Denis Auguim with sorting out his state of mind for the individual final and getting him in the position where he could win.

"He deserves a lot of the credit. This win is a credit to his professionalism and hard work," said Bernard.

Nervous and worried that his body "might not react as you wish", Bernard said he felt in control once he was in the water.

"I never felt lost, I wanted first place, I didn't know if I would break the record I just wanted to win the race. It was won in the last five metres.

"Today wasn't about the silver medal or the world record, it was about touching the wall first."

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