French Sports World Mourns Athletes Who Died in Crash
Olympic gold medalist Camille Muffat had retired from swimming to focus on her personal life, boxer Alexis Vastine had some unfinished business after two disappointing Olympics, and the beloved sailor Florence Arthaud was a pioneer for women in her sport.
The three athletes were among 10 people who died as two helicopters filming a European reality show crashed in a remote part of Argentina on Monday.
As France awoke to the news, the country’s political leaders and best-known sports figures registered their shock and expressed their condolences on television and social media.
The French sports daily L’Equipe’s website carried a picture of Muffat holding her gold medal in the 400-meter freestyle at the 2012 London Olympics alongside the words, “French Sport in Mourning.”
French President Francois Hollande spoke of his “immense sadness,” while the secretary of state for sport, Thierry Braillard, said, “French sport has lost three stars.”
“Some had finished their careers and one was dreaming of gold in Rio (in 2016),” Braillard said on BFM television. “I’m profoundly saddened.”
The helicopters apparently collided in mid-air in La Rioja province, about 730 miles (1,170 kilometers) northwest of Buenos Aires. Eight of those killed were French, the other two were Argentine. Authorities were at the scene of the crash late Monday trying to determine its cause.
Muffat, who was 25, also won a silver medal in the 200 freestyle and a bronze in the 4×200-meter freestyle relay at the London Games. She retired last year with big plans for the next stage of her life.
“Camille was a very determined girl who could make very strong choices and face up to them. She had dedicated a lot of her life to swimming to become Olympic champion, and her objective since her retirement was to make a success of her (personal) life,” her friend and agent Sophie Kamoun said. “She had a lot of projects that made her happy, and this show was one of them. I spoke to her on the phone two days ago and she told me she’d spent a fabulous week, one of the best of her life.”
Kamoun recalled how keen Muffat was to take part in “Dropped,” the survivalist television show she was filming in Argentina.
“She didn’t hesitate for one second, things were going well there,” Kamoun told BFM. “We knew she was happy there and that was the main thing, which is what makes this accident even more tragic.”
Another French swimmer, two-time Olympic gold medalist Alain Bernard, was also a participant in the show and had been due to fly in another helicopter on Monday.
“The production company called me first, around midnight, to tell me the news and Alain called me a short time after. Obviously he was in tears, traumatized by what he’d seen,” Kamoun said. “He told me he saw some flames and he knew it was dramatic.”
Fabrice Pellerin, Muffat’s former coach, spoke with pride and emotion about a recent encounter he had with Muffat.
“We spent a good time together, we ate at the restaurant, we shared the same table, we chatted,” he said. “Right now I’m thinking about Camille. She was always the first to wish me ‘Happy Birthday.’ Always smiling. She was a fantastic person.”
Vastine will never get the Olympic gold he so dearly craved — and one he felt was so unjustly denied him.