Alain Bernard: Prognosticator Par Excellence


“The Americans? We’re going to smash them. That’s what we came here for” — French swimmer Alain Bernard (above in happier times)


Oops! Well Mr. Bernard’s (right) prediction didn’t exactly pan out. The American 4x100m swim team took the gold tonight in dramatic fashion: “Phelps collects 2nd gold in relay”.

Bernard joins the ranks of athletes who have bumped their gums prior to competition only to fall flat on their faces and choke in spectacular fashion.

Perhaps none so wonderfully (if you’re American) than Mr. Bernard who anchored the 2nd place French team. The French were comfortably ahead and were poised to win gold when Bernard started the anchor leg of the relay.

What no one was counting on was Mr. Bernard’s able impersonation of an anchor in the last several meters, in conjunction with American Jason Lezak’s inspired finish to secure the gold for the American team.

Alain, my man, you are an excellent swimmer but as far as trash-talking is concerned, you’re what the French call, les incompetent.

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25 Responses to Alain Bernard: Prognosticator Par Excellence

  1. KW says:

    ed and i love to watch swimming and love it even more when Americans win

  2. Laz says:

    That last leg of the relay was pretty cool.

  3. FLEUR says:

    LEZAK CAUGHT THE FROG AT THE TURN.
    BEAUTIFUL!

  4. Alvin Williams says:

    Can anyone give a source for the Bernard quote? SI.com is saying it is an “urban legend,” and none of the French papers say anything about it…makes me wonder if NBC cooked it up. I’d just like to know who he said it to.

  5. Laz says:

    Sorry about that Alvin, I meant to link the story. Problem solved, click on the quote above to read the story.

  6. kimita says:

    Les incompetent…hahahaha!!! Toooo funny! 🙂

  7. Alvin Williams says:

    Thanks, I just find it strange that I can’t find the quote at any of the large American news sources (NYTimes, SI.com…the Washington Post even called the quote a “rumor”) or the French papers (Le Monde, Liberation, Le Figaro)… So I just wonder what the context was – who was interviewing him? Why does there seem to be so much doubt? Anyways, thanks again.

  8. Alvin Williams says:

    Sorry, I don’t know how that happy-face thing got up there, I didn’t put it there.

  9. Laz says:

    Alvin, that emoticon is published when you place a quotation mark next to a parentheses.

  10. Paligal says:

    I believe he said it to a number of reporters, not one singular paper. Reuters has a bunch of quotes from him, including that particular one, that he said during that same speech to the press. They phrase it as “…he told journalists in Beijing.”

  11. Cellar Rat says:

    Ha! The Americans rock the house. Unprecedented. I can’t wait for some sports reporter to stick a microphone into Alain’s face and ask him, “So are you full of crap, or just a trash talking idiot?” The look of sheer disbelief on the French teams’ faces was the icing on the cake.

  12. Alvin Williams says:

    Paligal, thanks for the Reuters reference, I just read the story there. Interestingly, they seem to suggest that Bernard was making a play on the comments of U.S. swimmer Gary Hall Jr., who at the 2000 games said the Americans would “smash” the Australian team “like guitars” in the relay. The result was similar: Hall, swimming the last leg, lost the race against Ian Thorpe…after which, in the words of Wikipedia, “the Australian team famously responded to Hall’s remarks…by playing air guitar on the pool deck.”

  13. Snoweagle says:

    Hey Alvin,
    Take a look at what Mr. Bernard, the fellow you seem to want to defend so much had to say after his humiliating defeat.

    Bernard, for his part, was left with an apple, and he tried to put on a good face. “An apple is still a great prize, but I can’t lie – I wanted that banana so badly, and in many ways I feel like it was taken from my fingertips. Today is a sad day for France.”

  14. Laz says:

    Easy Snow, Alvin is just making sure that the soundbite wasn’t a complete and utter fabrication intended to pump up an underdog American team.

  15. Alvin Williams says:

    Yeah no offense to anyone, it was a great race, probably the highlight of the olympics so far – I just got suspicious when the big news/sports sources seemed to be questioning the authenticity of the story…but I’m satisfied having read the Reuters article. Then I thought I’d relate the Hall story, because it seemed to fall into the same “doh!” category as Bernard.

    I do kind of feel bad for the kid, any mistake you make is just amplified in a setting like this…anyways he seems like a nice enough kid, I’m sure he’ll bounce back, just like Hall did when he won gold 4 years later.

  16. Smam says:

    This is funny how American people react to Bernard’s phrase while USA did the same to Australia in 2000 (smash like guitars). Don’t you think he just could have wanted to make fun of that?

    Anyway the race was very intense for both team (that performed almost the same) with multiple 100m freestyle world record a wonderful arrival, an incredible performance of Lezak and in the end the world record smashed by 4 seconds!!! For France and US, this was a great race). America won and deserved it.

    I’m French but I try to hear this story from both side. Bernard is probably like Us swimmer Phelps.

    hope we’ll have a great race for 100m freestyle!

  17. Alvin Williams says:

    Yeah Smam that was my suspicion, that Bernard was playing on the words of Hall. And yes it was an incredible race, didn’t the top 5 teams all break the record? Incredible.

  18. Laz says:

    I was not aware that the Americans had done that in 2000.

  19. Hali says:

    The bottom line is, Lezak’s performance is something I’ll be showing my grandkids. Why is Bernard getting all the attention?

    (“Smash” IS a weird word for a French person to use… was it translated? Or maybe he was trying to translate something else into English? Their English instruction sucks over there.)

  20. jfayiii says:

    Just nice to see mouths shut, regardless of nationality. Let what you do, do the talking. Served ui/him right in 2000 BTW.

    LOL “I doubt the authenticity of the story, having not seen it in the NYT” LOL. Outward patriotism, and any efforts/instances to instill it, will be summarily quashed by the NYT, simply because they don’t agree with it. Its so ‘gauche’. (A French word they would use to describe it, instead of an English one, ofc) And therefore not news. Unless MoveOn.org agrees with it. Then it might be. Maybe.

  21. Laz says:

    Hali,
    Yeah Lezak’s performance was amazing and has gotten lost in the shuffle…

  22. Alvin Williams says:

    Yeah I agree, Lezak was incredible, maybe the performance of the games so far.

    Jfayiii: I wasn’t doubting the authenticity because I hadn’t seen it in the NYT, but rather because I hadn’t seen it from a major news source. Strange that you would make this assumption, since I also mentioned SI.com and Le Figaro – not exactly bastions of the left! Wall Street Journal would have done fine too. In the end Paligal gave me the Reuters reference, which was fine.

    Hali: “smash” is indeed a translation, the word he used was “exploser” – apparently the full quote was “Les Américains ? On va les exploser. On est venu pour ça !” It’s true that the French aren’t as good as, say, the Germans or Swedes when it comes to English – then again, they’re far from the most unilingual bunch in the world, ahem…

  23. Ira says:

    What happened here was pure PR for the french or Bernard. It was genius! It put his face and team on the map especially here in the US. I had no idea who they were or cared. All I could breath was Michael! Michael! Michael! Somehow he had me desperately wanting to know or see more of him. Let’s face it -that race was for them to win, but Lezak’s adrenaline and desire to finally win this relay for the US came through. It’s historic that’s for sure. You could tell Bernard is a very sweet guy how he was eager to comfort cesar cielo from brazil when cielo won the gold in the 50. That was sweet even though he had just lost to him. I somehow found myself putting him on my wallpaper. Go figure.

  24. TheReal_WiderStory says:

    The deal with the quote is rather straightforward:
    1) The statement, if it was made, was rather benign.
    2) The statement was not just benign, but ordinary. Similar statements have been made at athletic events, to more moderate, even positive, reactions. (E.g. our own Jen Stuczynski, hoping to “kick some Russian butt”: http://www.treemo.com/users/polevaultpower/channel/item/451148/ — notice the crowd’s reaction at the end and its contrast to the reaction Bernard is receiving.)
    3) The statement may plausibly never have been made, as Sports Illustrated remarks. It was allegedly made at a news conference, but only 1 of the journalists who were present noted it, and no audio recording of it has been produced.

    On the real story: the US reaction to the quote. This reaction indicates an unusual level of hostility against the French, and it’s the real thing motivating these posts, so I believe it’s what we should be discussing.

    Americans have denigrated the French above the usual level of “popular inter-country noise”. Even in the late 80’s, I would notice a fervent hostility in the US that did not (nor has ever had) an analog in France. (Google “I hate France” and “Je hais les Etats-Unis”: you get 5000+ hits vs. 8; Ask Franco-Americans: they feel denigrated in the US but not in France; watch TV, read the papers, listen to the man on the street in the 2 countries: the difference in the prevalence of hostile comments is staggering.)

    This hostility is not caused by alleged French “rudeness”. From what I’ve gathered by traveling with Americans, negative experiences are no more likely in France than in other countries, but they are reported anecdoticaly with greater frequency. That is likely to be due to the travelers’ expectations and to the expectations of their friends at home. Stories about “negative tourist experiences” in France are an expression of this hostility, not its source.

    Other things that are not he source of this hostility: Alain Bernard; France’s cautious approach to a war on Iraq; Bush’s parochialism; France’s NATO history; France’s war record; or France’s failure to offer additional financial support to the recently emancipated American colonies (a gem of a comment I only encountered once). None of these things are plausible explanations because they, variously, occurred after the anti-French hostility was already flourishing in the US, or they are distortions, or they would be weak motivators, or they mis-attribute American anti-French hostility to the US government rather than to its people, where it lies.

    I have a theory about the source of this hostility that weathers these objections. I won’t share it now because it would detract from the primary point I am trying to make: that the real story is American anti-French hostility, and that much can be gained (by Americans) by trying to understand the source of this hostility, which clearly has not been done yet. But to say a small thing about my theory: I think the source of this hostility lies mostly with events in the US, and has only little to do with French culture, and then only with aspects of French culture I rarely see discussed in this context.

  25. Laz says:

    Real, thanks for the analysis.

    If I may, let me offer an explanation. American athletes (since Ali?) seem to have the market cornered on running pre-game smack.

    Maybe they just got territorial?

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