spotlight on medalists from overseas

The judoka Teddy Riner was received at the Elysee Palace on August 23, 2016, after obtaining a gold medal at the Rio Olympics. STÉPHANE DE SAKUTIN / AFP


“We brought spice to French sport. Spice and victories “, smiles ex-handball player Jackson Richardson. The native of Reunion Island was bronze medalist at the Olympic Games in 1992 and then double world champion (1995 and 2001). In 2004, for the Athens Olympics, he was the flag bearer of the French delegation, as will be the fencer Laura Flessel, in London, in 2012, or the judoka Teddy Riner, in Rio, in 2016.

What do they have in common? They have won almost everything and come from overseas. We vibrate at the replay of their exploits. Jean-Pierre Devillers retraces the history and the epic of these high-level athletes, in the run-up to the Tokyo Olympics which are to take place from July 23 to August 8.

At the beginning of the XXe century, at a time when sport is still a military tool and where Pierre de Coubertin promotes the modern Olympic Games, the French state uses sport to “discipline, civilize” the colonial populations. Maurice Carlton is the first Guadeloupe runner to represent France at the Games, in 1936, ten years before the law of departmentalization of the former colonies proposed by Aimé Césaire.

Sacrifices and racism

But it was in the 1960s, after decolonization, that the means to train high-level athletes arrived overseas. Roger Bambuck, world record holder over 100 m in 1968 and 4 × 100 m in 1967, and Marlène Canguio, specialist in hurdles races, who testifies in the film, participate in the Tokyo Olympics in 1964. Four years later, the Center of resources, expertise and sports performance (Creps) Antilles-Guyane opens its doors in Guadeloupe.

The most promising join Insep in the Bois de Vincennes, thought of as the “nursery of champions”

The most promising join Insep in the Bois d Vincennes, thought to be the “nursery of champions”. Medals rained down from the 1980s, at the cost of sacrifices of “uprooting”, of uprooting, but also of endurance in the face of racism that these champions feel they are fighting with their results. “In Robert Bobin’s France team, everyone really likes this young black man who has the nonchalance of people of his race”, said a commentator about Roger Bambuck… Almost sixty years later, racist inscriptions targeted Teddy Riner and Dimitri Bascou at Insep.

Based on eloquent archives, the documentary gives voice to the athletes themselves, such as the Guyanese swimmer Malia Metella, the Guadeloupe boxer Jean-Marc Mormeck, the Guadeloupe fencer Yannick Borel, or the handball player Allison Pineau, who come back to their battles, put into context with passion by the historian Fabrice d’Almeida. As when the triple Olympic champion Marie-José Pérec, whose modesty does not mask the disgust, remembers having had “Want to explode” by realizing that her notoriety could suddenly protect her from certain effects of racism.

JO: Golden Islands, documentary written by Vincent Feragus and Juan Massenya, directed by Jean-Pierre Devillers (Fr., 2021, 68 min). Aired as part of the program “La Case du siècle”. Available in replay on until August 26.

Mouna El Mokhtari

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