For more than twenty years, Louise Guillet has been a member of the French water polo team. She has experienced it all. Today, at 38, the captain of Les Bleues will compete in her first Olympics to close a great chapter in her life. Despite the painful World Championships in Doha, with only 13th place, she believes in it. Meeting with the woman who won her first selection in 2003, played abroad (Spain, Italy, Greece) and intends after the Olympics to take over her father’s construction business in Limoges.
You finished 6th at the European Championships and there, you finished 13th at the Worlds. How do you explain it?
We are not in our place, we completely failed against China (defeat on penalties, 11-10). It was a total non-match. It is perhaps our lack of experience in this match which costs us dearly. Thirteenths, we’ve never done that. At the last World Championships, we were 9th and just before 8th, best performance. It’s hard because we train a lot. I think we are the team that practices the most in this entire tournament. You have to question yourself personally but I think it’s a good slap in the face. It’s better that it happens now than later. Perhaps we saw ourselves looking too good after the Europeans, saying to ourselves that we had finished 6th and that we were going to smash it here. In the end, it doesn’t happen like that. We don’t leave the performances thinking that we’ve already arrived. We have to build everything.
“The fear of winning is present in the team and it was felt against China. We can’t manage this fear.”
You are qualified directly for the Olympics. Does this create a form of illegitimacy?
France has never been to the Olympic Games for girls and we don’t want people to say that we are there just because we are qualified as the host country. Between us, we set a very high bar: a medal at the Olympics. Maybe too high, but I don’t think so. Since the arrival of Théo (Greek coach Théodoros Lorantos), we have made a lot of progress at all levels. Of course we don’t want to be ridiculous. The boys have results, all the discipline with synchro, diving, swimming in general, it creates emulation. We don’t want to be Tom Thumb who does nothing. We need something to click. French clubs, Mulhouse or Lille, perform in Europe. It will give confidence.
Are you putting too much pressure on yourself as your first Olympics approach?
The team puts a lot of pressure on itself. We are a team that has never had a great performance at international level. I played in the generation where we lost to big nations by a goal or even a draw. I went abroad but today, we don’t have a team with this experience. This fear of winning is present in the team and it was felt against China. We can’t manage this fear of winning.
What makes you believe it?
Our daily commitment. We don’t give up. Even if Théo is very tough, we are still there. He always asks us more and we always answer more. It will pay off at some point. We also see against Greece that we had two good periods, against Spain, three good first periods. These are only periods but something is being created, there are signs. In France, in a friendly match, we lost by two goals against Italy due to two stupidities. We believe in. We all have the same goal.
Personally, you have experienced everything with Les Bleues since your first selection in 2003. What has changed since your debut?
In 2003, when I played my first World Championships in Barcelona, we were thirteen players, a coach and an assistant coach, basta (smile). We discovered everything, we looked at the Americans, world champions, Olympic champions, with big eyes. Ten years ago, we were having fun. Gradually, the staff began to expand. We had coaches with higher and higher skills, higher and higher demands. It affected the players. Currently, even if we are not professionals, we have the same pace of life as a professional.
What do you live on?
We train in the morning and evening. In this team, there are many young people who are students. A few veterans like me work nearby. It allows us to earn our living. Some have put their year on hold. I continue to work, I need to do something other than water polo and clear my mind. I played seven years abroad (Spain, Italy, Greece) where the players only did water polo, my parents wanted me to study on the side. I thank them because it was a balance. This year, I have lightened my schedule but I need to go to class, see my boss or work on the construction site in the afternoon.
“I want there to be momentum, for lots of kids to want to come to schools. I don’t want water polo to disappear after the Games”
Did you continue because there are the Olympics in France?
I could have stopped before but when Paris was chosen, I asked myself the question: you want to do 2024, why? To make 10s or to do something. I had returned to Bordeaux where I had a good life. I was peaceful on a permanent contract, comfortable at the club, I could go surfing whenever I wanted. I spoke about it to a trainer who told me that maybe I should go to Insep. For me, Paris is the north (smile). I replied that I would never leave Bordeaux. Then he told me that with the Fédé, they could develop a project for me in Paris. Finally, I went to Paris three years ago but it was not to make 10th.
You are captain of the team. Do you have a role as a link between the two generations?
Bringing cohesion into this group is my job. That’s what the coach asked me. There are 17 year old girls with 38 year old girls, 28 year olds, it’s not easy on a daily basis. It’s up to me to find the ingredients to make it work together. For the moment, it’s working, there are no hiccups in the team. It’s not easy, it takes time and energy. I’m always thinking about how to improve the atmosphere so that everyone has fun. For example, the guard Mia (Rycraw, American naturalized French) lives at Insep, it’s not easy at 28 years old. She no longer has a social life. She was all alone at Christmas without her family, Insep was closed, I invited her to the house. That’s my role.
It’s not easy talking to 17 year olds.
It’s not the same language. Even muscle music (laughs). Sometimes I tell them: rap, I’m tired of it, we’re changing (smile). But it’s nice, they make me discover lots of things. It makes me laugh. I also want to pass things on to them.
Beyond the result, do you hope that the Olympics will give a boost to water polo?
Yes, I want there to be momentum, for lots of kids to want to come to water polo schools. I don’t want water polo to disappear after the Olympics.
For you, water polo will definitely be over after the Olympics?
In August, the page turns. I gave well (smile). My father told me that I had work starting in October. I also have to have surgery for a small malignant tumor on my wrist. Then I will go to work in the company. If I’m ever asked to help the team a little, if I can do it with my work, why not. We’ll see. »