Antoine, do you realize the emotions you give people when you win a gold medal?
Antoine Brizard: Actually not. There is our own competition, we are really in our bubble. It’s not just an expression to say that, it’s true. It is difficult to go especially without an audience. There is our close circle, family, friends, but these are people who follow all our matches, in club, regardless of the competition. That, on the habit of vibrating with them, on the habit of seeing their reactions. These are people we talk to all the time. So we realize the emotion we bring.
But it’s true that the emotion of the general public, of you, of volleyball players in general, as much as I’m not a fan of social networks but there, I was happy that it existed, that we could see the reactions of people, the ‘stories’ of people filming themselves watching the match point.
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Let’s go back to your second hand at 13-12 in the tie-break of the last set in the Olympics final. What’s going through your head at that moment?
AB: That’s really it, it goes through my head! I didn’t even think about it, normally it’s one of my choices, I tell myself, I’m in front, it’s a possibility, if the reception is perfect, I know I can do it. There, the reception is complicated, it is perfect but it is very high, it turns a lot, so these are not the conditions to do it at that moment and then the moment is complicated all the same. I think if I miss it, Earvin (Ngapeth) cuts my head off!
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How did you mentally and emotionally manage this title?
AB: In terms of emotional charge, it’s very strong. That said, we said it, we repeated it, we won as a team, and it’s true. We won because we awarded it all to the guy next door. And that’s what I said after the Games, it’s certainly not the best players individually who won, so obviously when you win the Games it’s with very good players, but it’s the best team , the best collective. Because we don’t realize, when we only see the matches, we don’t know what’s going on outside, that Daryl (Bultor) who played a point or two during the Olympics, he’s super important and I sincerely mean it. What he does in the team is super strong so it’s an example to talk about him because everyone has played a little more than him.
From the first guy on the pitch to the last guy on the bench, we know we’re all together. When you see the guys on the bench passing by… the referees take their time telling us to sit down. We saw the match as much as if we were on the pitch, or even more. We want to help as much as we can the guys who are on the ground. They are brothers, being with them I feel strong. I trust them. The pressure, it disappears.
Brizard: “It’s certainly not the best players who won, but the best team”
Volleyball is not very cultural in France as it may be elsewhere. Do you think that could change? Should we bet on constant results with the France team?
AB: We suffer from the success of other team sports. We live in a country of joint sports, it’s impressive but suddenly, they set the bar very, very high. An Olympic gold medal is fantastic. On the scale of French volleyball, it is unimaginable but on the scale of French co-sport, it is not yet enough. It is sure that it goes through results. Afterwards, world volleyball is so dense that it’s hard. But we will do everything for it. We were told that the place of volleyball in the French landscape is rendered by an Olympic medal. See now if it really happens. Anyway, we did the job.
Stéphane Antiga: “Does the Olympic title help you to be more serene, more confident or on the contrary does it put you under more pressure knowing that naturally the expectations will be higher?”
AB: I’m really going to get wet by saying: “a bit of both!” But it leans more towards: “less pressure”. It gives a lot of confidence. People look at us differently. We feel that we still marked the volleyball. It marks the spirits an Olympic title and it gives a reward that I could miss at times. I saw smugglers making their way at international level and I was always in the shadow of Totti (Benjamin Toniutti) in the national team and I said to myself: ‘What do I have to do?’ ‘ It was a little frustrating. Not to say that I’m the best passer in the world, but there are guys who started in their national team and I was like: ‘But they have nothing, they are good players, but there’s nothing crazy.” It was frustrating in a way even though I fully understood my role in the France team. But now we are Olympic champions. People realize what we have done, what we are worth. There is this side where I can say to myself: “It’s done.” When I take a step back from my career, this title will remain forever.
What are your goals for this season?
AB: With Piacenza, my new club, we are a young team. I would like us to progress as much as possible before arriving in the play-offs and if possible without injury, being as fit as possible and playing as well as possible as a team. Afterwards, in the play-offs, anything can happen. I think we have the possibility of playing a semi-final. It will be very hard but I think we can do it, we can create a surprise. But the championship is very dense. I want us to be a boring team to play, that the big teams don’t like to play us.
And concerning the French team, this generation only lacks one title, it is to be world champion so obviously, to medal at the World Cup, that would be fantastic. The hardest thing is to stay on top, on seeing it at the Euro. We have to assume our status now and we obviously want to perform at the world championships (August 26-September 11 in Russia, editor’s note).
The entire interview with Antoine Brizard can be found below on video. Discover the questions of our consultant Laurent Chambertin as well as an intervention by Stéphane Antiga. Finally listen to his favorite piece before entering the volleyball courts.
Antoine Brizard: “The objective was to get out of the pool and we end up Olympic champion”
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