Paris 2024 Paralympic Games: Arnaud Assoumani, the athlete who will carry the flame to Cannes, has “rebuilt” himself in Montpellier

Paris 2024 Paralympic Games: Arnaud Assoumani, the athlete who will carry the flame to Cannes, has “rebuilt” himself in Montpellier

Arnaud Assoumani has found a second wind at Creps de Montpellier, where he has been training for more than two years. Midi Libre – SYLVIE CAMBON

Olympic long jump champion in 2008, the Parisian, settled in Montpellier two years ago, is an icon of disabled sports who will carry the flame, this Tuesday, May 21, at the Cannes festival, on D-100 of the Paralympics. He will compete in his 6th Games in Paris, "to change perceptions of disability." 

He embodies the art of transforming the lead of destiny into Olympic gold. Born in Orsay without a left forearm, long jumper Arnaud Assoumani has a track record that would make many “able-bodied” French athletes salivate: five Olympic medals including one gold in Beijing (2008), a podium at each Olympics, two world titles.

At 38 years old, the neo-Montpellier is not starting his sixth games in the shoes of a veteran who is preparing to fight one last fight. He has become an icon of a Paralympic world which is counting on these Paris Games to profoundly change the way we view disability. The proof: Arnaud, who was a film student, was chosen to carry the flame this Tuesday, May 21 on the steps of the Cannes festival.

6th at the Kobe world championships, this weekend

However, it is in Saint-Denis, at the beginning of September, that he intends to burst onto the screen again. This weekend, at the world championships in Kobe (Japan) played without any particular pressure, a 6th place (6m90) at length validated the good passing times of his preparation, only 35 cm from the podium. .

"This is my worst session in the two and a half years I've been training in Montpellier", he smiled after a session in the pouring rain on the Stade Philippidès track a few days ago. "No, seriously, it's been ten years since I've been this good. Rebuilding myself, that was the goal in coming here after my serious injury before the Tokyo Olympics.". A complete rupture of the tendon on his impulse leg, non-operable and which modified the physiology of his ischio. "It took me a year to come back, continues- he, I qualified for Tokyo but I missed out (8th), I wasn't in".

"These Games must serve as a catalyst"

The retirement in 2021 of his coach at Insep, Jean-Hervé Stievenart – since deceased in 2022 – had encouraged him to find a new training structure. "With Jocelyn Piat and his group, at Creps de Montpellier, it works well.&quot ; With a qualification in hand since October 2023 which allows him to be "focus on training", Arnaud will approach these 2024 Games with the objective of having fun because it's already extraordinary to be there, the performance will follow ;.

A new podium, or even gold, already sparkles in the corner of his mind. But for Arnaud the essential lies elsewhere. In the hope of seeing these Games serve as a catalyst to change views on people with disabilities. This is my driving force because there is still a lot to do on accessibility in transport, accommodation, education, work, at all levels."< /em>

He gets involved in commissions, in schools

20 years after his first Paralympics in Athens, the Montpellier native, candidate to be flag bearer during his 6th games, wants to be above all a spokesperson: "I n&rsquo I don't like the term disabled sport, reductive, which implies that before being athletes, we would have an identity linked to disability. I grew up in the countryside near Angers, I know the problems linked to disability in rural areas or in priority neighborhoods. More generally, health sport should be the priority in this country but sport remains the smallest state budget. We're not taking the right turn

Arnaud goes from words to strong actions, he who finished 3rd in the French valid championships in 2012, narrowly missing a double qualification for London in 2012 (valid and Paralympics). Sponsor of the Sport Sans Frontières and Diversity Aids associations, member of the committee of the Legacy Impact Paris 2024 endowment fund, he is pushing the project for 3,000 new clubs welcoming athletes with disabilities. In schools and colleges, he works with young people, including on the approach to prosthetics, "because we realize that’ ;having an original and different prosthesis is a tool for opening up dialogue."

Music fan, he will release an album in 2025

Backed by his track record, his slew of sponsors (Boulanger, EDF, Best Western, Hôtel Taylor, TWC…), the 2012 Paralympic champion is the ideal spokesperson, he who created his own company for himself ;rsquo;surround a team of ten people and leave nothing to chance, from mental preparation to performance tests, including physical, medical and management of social networks. A luxury in a world where "too many top athletes still live in a precarious situation."

Also read: Paris 2024 Paralympic Games: after three bronze medals, Toulouse fencer Maxime Valet in search of gold

L’after career ? He has been preparing for it for a long time "because studies have always taken precedence". Trained in directing and then studying at Science PO, he develops consulting on diversity and inclusion policies. This jack of all trades, fan of beatbox (music with the mouth) and Brazilian music works "on the release of an album for 2025."

"That there is a before and after Paris in terms of vision of disability"

It also sponsors two projects integrated into the cultural Olympics: "In unison", a contemporary dance show at the ;Olympia from July 21 to 23 and "Bras d’or, bras d’art", an exhibition in September, the result of work on prostheses &quot ;whose vocation is to question the relationship to the body and to difference".

No question, however, of seeing these 2024 games as the last challenge of his immense career. "It will especially be the most important, he concludes. So that there is a before and an after in terms of vision of disability, that we humanize difference. May disability cease to be the primary criterion of discrimination in France."

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