We don’t stop them anymore. Barely more than a month after the Olympic triumph in Tokyo, Trévor Clévenot’s teammates are starting big favorites this Monday in the round of 16 of the Euro against the Czech Republic, at home in Ostrava. The 27-year-old receiver-forward and Team Yavbou have strung together five wins in five group matches. They are surfing a wave that could finally allow French volleyball to emerge from the relative anonymity in which it has always languished.
Clévenot sweeps the news of a sport that has changed dimension thanks to a sublime final against the Russians (3-2), in front of 6.7 million viewers.
To link the Olympics and the Euro as quickly as possible, it’s only in volleyball that you can see that, right?
I think … But the situation is a bit special because the Olympics have been postponed for a year because of the Covid. Normally, there should have been this year only the European Championships and previously the World League, renamed VNL (League of Nations). It’s exceptional, but it’s true that it continues.
Is it hard to get back to it after the Olympic coronation?
Yes obviously, especially since we have been at the end of the Olympics. We have achieved something exceptional. In the head, getting back to work is always complicated. But we got back on track well overall.
How volleyball is already surfing the Olympic triumph in Tokyo via @20minutesSport https://t.co/qd4LaSiuCA
— 20 Minutes Sport (@20minutesSport) September 9, 2021
Did you have time to cut between the two competitions?
Yes, I have returned to my family. We still had three months of health bubble to prepare for the Games and not thinking about volleyball for ten days was good.
Do you feel that the look of the opponents has changed?
Yes, everyone wants to hit the reigning Olympic champions! We have to stay in our outsider costume: there are nations more armed than us for this Euro, such as Poland which co-organizes, the Russians still present, the Serbs and the Slovenes, two big European teams who did not participate at the Olympics and had time to prepare. Physically and psychologically, they are more ready. We remain calm and we will try to do something good, but we have to be clear-headed.
Speaking of lucidity, have you come down from your Olympic cloud?
From time to time, we send each other little spades, we talk about it again. But we try to be still focused on this Euro to finish in style. We have to switch, it’s another tournament, another competition, another format, other teams. We had the chance to experience something crazy with the Olympics. But here, the head is 100% at the Euro.
Have you seen this famous final against the Russians?
No. I haven’t even seen a Games match yet. I wanted to enjoy the present moment with my family and close friends, not to immerse myself in something past. Later, I’ll watch it, it will be a good way to make myself a little happy.
Were you able to enjoy these Olympics, even behind closed doors?
It was special. We did not realize the impact there was in France. We saw it when we arrived in Paris, it made us really happy. It’s just a shame not to have been able to share with the supporters at the time, to be able to go out with them.
When we see the images of the day after the title, we tell ourselves that you still celebrated this gold medal, right?
(Smile) Sure! We had been locked up for three months and we managed to go all the way. Body and mind needed a cut. We took advantage of it.
The team hasn’t changed too much since Tokyo, but you have a new coach. How is he ?
Laurent (Tillie, who had been in office since 2012) remained at the head of the France team for a long time. Our Brazilian coach (Bernardinho) brings us a new discourse, a new way of seeing volleyball, of playing. It also motivated us for this Euro. Immediately, we have a new pressure, a new staff, it’s very good.
Considering the competition, keeping the title in three years in Paris will be very complicated, in your opinion?
It’s certain. Confirming something exceptional is even harder. We will be expected even more. There have only been two teams in the history of volleyball at the Olympic Games that have managed to win twice in a row (the USSR in 1964 and 1968, the United States in 1984 and 1988). If we manage to do it, it will be more than exceptional. The goal is Paris 2024 but the road is extremely complicated, as we know.
Volleyball was until now the poor relation of the great team sports in France. Can this gold medal make a difference?
We hope so. There were great audiences. We hope that this will encourage young people to take up volleyball, that it will encourage people to go to see the professional matches which are of good quality in France. It’s still a really cool sport to play and watch.
Were you recognized in the street when you returned to France?
Yes, a bit on the way back from Japan. There were people watching TV and obviously that had an impact. But little by little, it has “deteriorated” and this is normal.
Has there been an OJ effect on your social networks?
Yes, there has been a big impact, in France and abroad. I gained roughly 45,000 followers on Instagram during the Games period (there are 70,900).
You are the son of an international volleyball player, your two brothers practice this sport. There are many children of the ball in the France team …
Completely. For a long time, we are somewhat between “sons of” (the other Olympic champions Ngapeth, Tillie, Patry, Grebennikov, Louati as well as Faure, absent at the Games but present at the Euro). Before it was a very family sport. Then little by little, with the results, we hope that things will go forward, that things will open up.
How did you get started in volleyball? At school, like everyone else?
I have always played on the beach, at home (in Royan). Previously, I had played soccer. I was a defender at the Nantes training center and then Bordeaux. I lived a year a little less well in the Girondins, and I changed around 13-14 years old, to play club volleyball.
Like the vast majority of Olympic champions, you play abroad (after Toulouse then Plaisance and Milan in Italy, Clevenot must join Jastrzebski Wegiel in Poland). Why ?
Yes, 70% of the team play abroad. This is normal compared to the budget of the clubs, at the level. Abroad, especially in Poland or Italy, the theaters are screened. There are 3,000, 4,000, 5,000 people who come, even for the small games. We hope that the French championship will slowly rise to balance all that.
Maybe the Olympics will encourage the French to move?
We hope so. The French championship is far from bad, there is really a good level. It would be nice if people who enjoyed watching our games on TV came to experience volleyball for real.