With two gold medals and one silver in individual, but also a silver in mixed team and two titles among juniors, the French bench press team completed the recent European Championships in Tbilisi ( Georgia) to 5th in the nations ranking (out of 23). A great overall performance when we remember that it was the first stage counting for the world ranking which will determine the qualifiers for the Paralympic Games in Paris (Top 8 in each category on June 26, 2024).
Engaged in -79kg, Souhad Ghazouani (40 years old) undoubtedly secured her place in the JOP by validating a bar at 125kg, which gave her her 8th European title. But she will also compete in an event in her usual category of -73kg to give herself the choice of playing for a Paralympic title that she has already won in 2012 (she has 5 medals in all). For his part, Rafik Arabat (31 years old) became vice-champion of Europe by exploding his personal best (211kg against 206 during the French Championships).
As for Axel Bourlon, a year after his Paralympic silver medal obtained in Tokyo, he was crowned for the first time, four years after his first international foray during these same European Championships, where he finished 2nd in Berck -on sea. “It’s a pride, admits the 31-year-old Roannais. It was also a goal, I absolutely wanted this title. » Even if it means having to change strategy during the competition, and temporarily put away your desires for raw performance.
Introduced to the bench press in 2005
Axel Bourlon, whose achondroplasia and his 1.40m have never been a brake, often imprinted on side roads. Thus, it was swimming that he wanted to practice at the start. But, because of his handicap, his morphology, he had trouble keeping his head above water, which prompted him to start bodybuilding to strengthen his back. He will have to meet Martine Servajean, who competed in the Paralympic Games in 2000 and 2004, so that he can learn the bench press in 2005.
Last summer, it was an imbroglio that animated his Paralympic day at the time of the weigh-in, with a protest filed when he realized that instead of the 52.95kg announced, the officials had registered 53.95kg . An error which could have cost him a place since then, in the event of an identical bar, as was the case with the Greek Dimitros Bakochristos, the silver and bronze medals were decided by body weight.
“I don’t want the silver medal anymore, I want the gold. I always want to win”
This time, it was his first bar at 157kg that was refused by the referees, without the French clan really understanding why. “The referees seemed to believe that I did not raise the bar correctly but we watched the replay on the spot, and we do not see the problem, wonders Axel Bourlon. Maybe they wanted to see if I was mentally strong? » The young man prefers to joke, because he knew how to stay focused, and do what was necessary to win.
“In spirit, I wanted to be 157 kg, then 162, and finally between 165 and 170”, evokes the Frenchman who had raised his record to 165 kg in Japan. The trouble is that by being entitled to three tries, with the obligation to validate the first bar on his 2nd attempt, he had to abandon his initial ambition. “The leap would have been too great between 157 and 165kg, he said. So I played a little with my opponents to secure the title. » If the Ukrainian Konstantyn Panasiuk will try in vain a gamble at 158 kg, the Greek Bakochristos will succeed 157 kg. “The rule has changed since the Games: no more question of body weight, it is now possible that we work together to share the medal or go back under the bar to do it again. But I didn’t want to share”insists Axel Bourlon who has therefore validated 159kg for his first Marseillaise.
If he appreciates that the Paralympic medal brought him more solicitations, visibility, opportunities to convince sponsors, if he promises that, since then, “People’s gaze on (his) disability has completely changed”she especially increased her appetite tenfold. “I don’t want the silver medal anymore, I want the gold. I always want to win he hammers. And I give myself the means. »
Teleconsultant, Axel Bourlon continues to juggle his work. But he was able to sign a CIP (professional integration contract) with the disabled sports federation and his employer, which allows him to be more available for training (three two-hour sessions per week), be released for training and competitions.
“There is a great dynamic and cohesion. Everyone supports each other, comes to encourage others. It’s a team united around a hard core “
Since June, he has also changed coach in Roanne, and it is now Flavien Martinez who accompanies him, in the same way as the national coach, Mehdi Ourizat. Moreover, in view of the Paris Games, the Blues are multiplying the groupings. In November, they have an appointment in Montauban.
Between now and the Paris Games, there will be Worlds in Dubai, in July 2023, and two World Cups in 2024. Currently 4th in the world rankings, he still returns about fifteen kilos to the leader and gold medalist in Tokyo , the Kazakh David Degtyarev. But it counts “do whatever it takes to get closer” and knows how to rely on a blue collective that is growing. “There is a great dynamic and cohesion. Everyone supports each other, comes to encourage others. It’s a team united around a hard core “observes Axel Bourlon.
A trio he composes with Souhad Ghazouani and Rafik Arabat, who won a silver medal in the mixed team in Tbilisi. “It’s a very good ranking, we lost in the final against Ukraine, but all three of us went into battle, with the desire to surpass ourselves for the medal. » A state of mind that must continue to aim ever higher in a discipline where competition, in terms of volume and quality, continues to intensify.