Ping-pong has an advantage that not all sports have: the possibility of being practiced between four walls, under the neon lights of a cellar or that of a garage. The interest is not small during a pandemic… provided you have a table at home. There was none at the home of the Lebrun family, in Saint-Geniès-des-Mourgues (Hérault), in March 2020, the date of the first anti-Covid-19 measures. The boys, Alexis and Félix (respectively then 16 and 13 years old), had until then been used to « taper » balls in a room in Montpellier, under the leadership of their father, Stéphane Lebrun, a former professional who became a coach. The announcement by Emmanuel Macron of the establishment of the first confinement would then place the two children before the most terrible prospect: being deprived of « ping » for an indefinite time.
The next day, the father and his sons rushed to the Alain-Achille gymnasium, in the north of Montpellier, with the neighbor’s truck. A table is taken on board and then brought home. “The boys tidied up the cellar immediately, remembers their mother, Dominique Lebrun. An hour later, everything was fine. » It doesn’t matter if the ceiling height prevents you from raising your arms; too bad if the distance does not exceed 1.50 meters on each side of the table: the games were no less frenzied. It is there, in the middle of a humidity prohibiting sweating for more than an hour in a row, that Alexis and Félix Lebrun will reach a decisive milestone in their journey as champions. While all competitions were at a standstill, and the best table tennis players were forced to rest, they “taken from monumental wads” during two months.
Félix (left) and Alexis Lebrun, in Montpellier, May 3, 2023. LE CRAB LAURENT / PRESSE SPORTS
If it only partly explains the irresistible rise of these children of the ball – aged 17 and 20 today – the episode indeed constitutes its starting point, the blossoming of a phenomenon beyond the scope of sport. Simple third division players, ranked between 100th and 250th place in France, Alexis and Félix will see their performances take off at the speed of a smash. The eldest will “enter” the thousand, then the hundred best in the world between January and May 2022, before stabilizing in twenty-third place today. His younger brother will follow the same curve and reach seventh place in the world this fall (he is now eighth). The fourth Frenchman to join the Top 10, he is also the third youngest player in history to infiltrate this elite dominated by Chinese table tennis players. “I was hoping to progress, but it went faster than expected”he himself is surprised.
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