Three time Olympic Champion Tony Estanguet talks memorable moments, sibling rivalry, IOC work, and life after sport.
Tony Estanguet on...
Memorable Olympic moments
It is never easy to identify the best moment in one’s sporting career. However, the memories of my three Olympic gold medals sit above the rest. Canoeing is a demanding sport. To remain at the top, especially at the Olympic Games, is unforgettable. My first gold medal at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games was the most special, as it was also my first experience at the Olympic Games. I was 22 years old at the time, I had to race against my brother to qualify, I discovered a new continent; everything was great. Sydney was a very special time.
My brother, Patrice, competed for France at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta and won a bronze medal in canoe slalom. When I qualified for the 2000 Olympic Games, it wasn’t easy for my brother to tackle this moment. For me it was a big step to qualify as he was the Olympic favourite. When I took the slot, I realised everything was possible. It was a very important moment in my career. I realised that emotions are not part of the action. If you want to be at the top, you have to manage your emotions. When you are competing against your brother it is not that easy to keep your emotions under control. In 2000, it was the first time in my life that I understood this. I felt liberated and free afterwards. After this I could really focus on the actions and leave the emotions aside.
My brother and I trained together, and after the qualification, he kept giving me advice. It was very helpful. He didn’t come to watch in Sydney as it was a long way away, but he called me during my preparation and competition.
IOC Commission Membership
It’s a great challenge for me since I retired from the Olympics - I live a great story within the International Olympic Committee. The three commissions I sit on (Athletes’ Commission; Olympic Solidarity; Sport and the Environment Commission) are very interesting.
You have to find the tools to help the athletes. You have to think about your own experiences and try to develop tools and bring them to the athletes. For example, the IOC Athlete MOOC, is a great online programme to help educate athletes. It’s a big challenge to develop links and relationships with athletes. We aim to have an athletes’ commission in every NOC, every IF and on every continent. We have to strengthen the network of athletes. I understand that it is hard when you are an athlete as you are focused on your sport. It’s my goal to raise an interest in the athletes.
I think that this Commission is the arm of the IOC that is tasked with promoting and developing universality. The Commission helps a lot by giving support to NOCs which are not able to develop strong programmes. For example, I have a strong memory of one of my friends, Benjamin Boukpeti, from Togo, who was helped by the Olympic Solidarity. Benjamin won the bronze medal in the canoe slalom (men’s kayak single) at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. For me, I am very proud that the Movement has this kind of programme; it adds meaning to the Olympic Movement.
Sport and Environment
This is a key point for me as I was practising a sport that was in nature. There is a strong responsibility for the Olympic family to respect nature. We organise so many events and we have to make sure that these events are sustainable. This is a major challenge in the years to come. I was very happy to see a strong focus on sustainability in Olympic Agenda 2020. There are key recommendations about the bid cities and also the IOC – to have more responsible and sustainable actions and practices. It is my position to push this. In fact, the Athletes’ Commission was the first commission to offset the carbon footprint of the members’ travel. I was proud that this leadership came straight from the athletes.
Life after sport
Life is busy and life is great. Sometimes you hear (from other athletes) that it is so difficult and sad to end a sports career. However, I think that there is a great life to live after sport and I have fantastic memories of my career. Outside of my work at the IOC, I am working on delivering canoe slalom international competitions. I am leading the organising committee. I am improving my people management skills every day. I love it, but it is very demanding. We are organising the 2015 ICF Canoe Slalom World Cup Final in August (which will be held in Pau, France), and the same event in 2016. We are also organising the 2017 ICF Canoe Slalom World Championships. I am very confident that we will deliver a great event.