Introducing the Swimmer

A candid conversation with Mehdy Metella, silver medalist at the Rio Olympics 2016

Swimmer CN Marseille

Silver Medal Rio 2016 (4x100)

World Champion (4x100) Kazan 2015

European Champion (4x100) London 2015

After winning silver in Rio, the French swimmer Mehdy Metella, 24, also the record holder of the 100m butterfly, dives to the heart of his passion, immersing us in the everyday life of a top athlete and revealing his second love: fashion.

Words by Aurélien Desroses
Photography by Marcus Gaab

My father is Guyanan and my mother is Moroccan-Algerian. She passed along her lifelong passion for swimming to my two older sisters and me. For her, it was vindication, as my grandfather forbade her to carry on swimming once she reached adolescence. My mother left Algeria for France when she was 28. Before leaving, she wrote a letter explaining that she would get even by encouraging her future children to become champion swimmers.

I first swam at the age of two. I say swam, but actually I fell into the pool and floated because of my diaper! So it’s fair to say that I literally fell into swimming when I was very little. For as long as I can remember, I accompanied my sisters to all their swim meets.

My sister Malia is a former world-ranked swimmer. We share a classic sibling relationship that’s separate from the world of competitive sport. She supports me without encroaching on the role of my coach. She doesn’t add any extra pressure. Having lived through the same thing, she keeps a supportive, positive attitude. There is no sibling rivalry. Before the Games, she encouraged me to top her silver medal in 2004.

We finished second in the 4x100m freestyle relay and I came in a satisfying sixth in the individual 50m butterfly. I admit, I had hoped for better. But with hindsight, I consider these performances victories. Once I realized that many would have loved to achieve the same results, I was as happy as a man can be. I channeled my initial disappointment into a renewed drive to win. Brazil taught me valuable lessons for the future and the experience will help me in 2020.

The life of a competitive swimmer requires lots of sacrifice and rigorous organization. I train twice a day from Monday to Friday. Every week, I spend about 30 hours in the water and seven in the gym.

I eat seven times a day because my body needs to work constantly. My diet is strictly monitored. I stick to a structured diet during vacation to keep the pace. It’s a stringent process but it’s mandatory for anyone who wants to perform at his or her highest level.

People of colour are not considered natural swimmers. We are jokingly associated with Eric Moussambani, who became a celebrity in 2000 when he set the record for the slowest time in the Olympic 50m freestyle. Standing out and competing with the elite is something special to me.

I feel like a pioneer, like Christophe Lemaitre in athletics. I’m elated when I compete in the finals and come in among the top. What’s more, I am extremely proud whenever I have the chance to represent my origins alongside the French flag: both symbolize a culture of diversity.

I follow fashion. A few months ago, I wore a Pharrell Williams hat. For everyday dressing, I like accessories, apparel and footwear. I’m inspired by what I see and like to add my own touch. Swimmers say I have the “Metella style”. Last year, I spent a lot on my wardrobe. I have no colour preferences; I like to mix up.

I'm not a famous enough swimmer yet to make specific requests of my sportswear supplier. But we are discussing the possibility of customizing my colours. Developing a branded collection would be a dream, if only to hone the Metella touch. It would be fun and I’d learn a lot about the production process. Who knows? It might help me plan for life after swimming.

Swimming does not (yet) guarantee income commensurate with the effort required, so it’s crucial to consider a future career. No athlete should overlook this issue, and it’s already there in a corner of my mind. But I haven’t decided on anything yet. At my age and considering my athletic aspirations, it’s difficult to project into the future. Why not create my own business, as Henri did with Sporty Henri?

I saw Christian Louboutin at a party I attended to unwind and celebrate my results in Rio. As a fashion fan, I recognized him immediately and approached him to take a picture. Henri was with him. We ended up talking all evening. He told me about Sporty Henri and I really liked the project’s basic philosophy. It was lovely to meet them, and it laid the foundation for our collaboration.

Sporty Henri has had the honour to organize the photo shoot at the iconic Molitor swimming pool, an historic place opened in 1929. Thank you to Mrs Yael Haim and her team for being a great host in this legendary Art Deco venue.

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