Nothing seems to bind Alexandre (19 years old), Alix (27 years old) and Jean-Claude (85 years old). However, all three of them will throw themselves into the water on Saturday as part of the 24th Monte-Cristo Challenge, a swimming race in open water, in the Mediterranean in Marseille, in which 5,000 swimmers of 50 different nationalities will participate. Which makes it “the first European swimming event at sea”, according to the organizers. With courses of 1 to 6 km, with or without flippers, around the Château d’If, from where Edmond Dantès had escaped in the count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, who inspired the creation of this event.
Jean-Claude Paul has already participated “a dozen times”, which makes him the most experienced of the three. After sixty years of diving and a heart operation, he wanted to “move a little more”. That’s how he got into swimming. “I was in the water, and I stayed in the water by going to swimming with accessories, explains the octogenarian. It is an excellent discipline for the elderly. We are weightless, which allows us to maintain the health of our joints, while doing sports. »
“A terrible atmosphere, that of major competitions”
Since then, he has been swimming at least two hours, twice a week in the swimming pool of Saint-Germain-en-Laye (Yvelines), where he is president of a club. Except that after 4 km swimming in the pool, “we know the tiles by heart”. So he also turned to open water swimming. “I have just come back from the French palm swimming championships in Sanguinet (Landes), where I finished vice-champion of France in my category”, confides the one now aiming more for pleasure than competition.
He will therefore set off on Saturday morning for the 5 km with fins in Marseille, during the Monte-Cristo Challenge. “I had heard about it about fifteen years ago, we went there with the club and we found it very nice, in a superb city with friendly people, the sun and the sea”, recalls Jean -Claude Paul.
Since then, he returns there every year with his club, to celebrate the end of the season in apotheosis. “There is a terrible atmosphere, that of major competitions. There are champions, completely amateur people and old people like me. My challenge is to finish the race”, confides the one who relies on meticulous preparation, upstream competitions and weekly training. “Because this challenge, you can’t tackle it without training. »
“I hardly train”
But do not tell Alix Cornu, who will celebrate his 27th birthday on the day of his first participation in the 5 km with fins of this edition of the Monte-Cristo Challenge. Two years ago, this nurse didn’t even play sports. But a humanitarian trip and the daily life of a Covid-19 service transformed her. “I said to myself that life was too short and that we had to enjoy it. One day, on my way home, I watched a story by Laury Thilleman who was in the half Marathon des Sables. I couldn’t find anyone to do it with so I went alone, and unprepared,” she says.
No sport for twelve years, one last cigarette the day before the race and off she went for her first sporting adventure. “In the end, I managed to cover 100 km in three days in complete food autonomy,” says Alix. A click that pushes her to register for the Paris half-marathon, then for the Rotterdam marathon. “I hardly train. Nobody believes me, but my friends know it. I sometimes go for a run but I never manage to do more than 10 km because after an hour of running, I have thought enough about my life and my only desire is to go home. But going to the end of my limits breaks me. Thinking about those who tell me “You’re going to shoot yourself, you won’t make it” also helps me to surpass myself”, explains the one who works on the mind and the will.
“I’m afraid of being run over”
Her preparation for the Monte-Cristo Challenge, for which she registered for the 5 km with fins with a friend met on the Marathon des Sables, is in the same vein as for her last challenges. “I am a nurse in Belgium, I do seven nights in a row and liberal in my free time. So I don’t have much time to prepare. I did two workouts a week for a month,” she says.
Small relief, Alix will have the right to a snorkel: “My big problem is breathing because I still come out of twelve years of tobacco. His biggest fear is especially at the start of the race: “I believe in my ability to finish this challenge, but I’m afraid of being run over by the other competitors at the start. »
Rehearsal for the pros
Alexandre Henneteau, engaged on the same distance, should not crush it, but rather exceed it since he is aiming for the final victory, while he finished second last year in 58’50 on the 5 km with fins. This member of the French finswimming team is world champion in the 4×1,000m mixed relay, after being “disgusted” with ten years spent in classic swimming. “My uncle Clément Becq had also switched from classic swimming to swimming with fins and it had worked well for him, with world records and a title of European champion. When I got bored of swimming, I started doing fin workouts. I did well and I had the opportunity to enter the France pole in Aix, ”he explains.
This race, in which he will participate for the fourth time, is for him a good dress rehearsal before the summer competitions, in addition to “the decor, and the history of the race with this escape of the prisoner”. “The Monte-Cristo Challenge is well located, two months before the Worlds. It’s a good stage of preparation, and a really good race with top-notch organisation. We are delighted to go back there every year, ”says the young champion.
” Make things happen “
Beyond this preparation, Alexandre Henneteau and the French open water swimming team also and above all come to promote their discipline. It recently lost high level status, due to the lack of graduates and general level in France. “The Challenge is trying to shake things up by bringing in some big names like Axel Reymond or Coralie Balmy. The organization and the village are great, people come to chat with us and are really interested in our sport,” explains Alexandre Henneteau.
He himself gave masterclasses before the competition. “It allows people to train with each other because a lot of swimmers prepare on their own. We give them advice, our expertise, and that interests them because they are not used to it, ”he appreciates. Because beyond the competition, the Monte-Cristo Challenge is above all an ideal place for exchanges and meetings around open water swimming, and sport more generally. All this in a sumptuous setting that plunges us back into the cult work of Alexandre Dumas.