LIFE AFTER THE GAMES. Olympic champion with the French handball team in Tokyo, the Montpellier resident does not intend to “twiddle his thumbs for three years”, until Paris 2024.
MAKING-OF. For some athletes, the road to success is like a long, straight line. On a smooth road. For others, on the other hand, it turns out to be more tortuous, dented. Such is the case of Hugo Descat. Present in the national youth team from the age of 14, the player trained at US Créteil is immediately promised a great future as a left winger. Until the break with his training club and his departure, on the sly, for Dinamo Bucharest. At almost 27, his international career was like a siding. Until his rebound in Montpellier a year before the Tokyo Games, which he cannot thank enough that they were postponed for a year. In the Japanese capital, Descat shines brightly, to the point of winning everything, Olympic gold and the title of best left winger in the competition. Two months later, meeting with a more mature and peaceful athlete.
Hugo, how are you, a little over two months after this Olympic coronation in Tokyo against Denmark in the final?
Hugo Descat: I’m fine thank you. I returned on the night of Wednesday to Thursday from a trip to Skopje in the Champions League which went very well (Montpellier 31-25 victory in Macedonia) and tomorrow (Saturday), an important match awaits us against Dunkirk .
Was the recovery easy for you after such an emotional summer?
Physically, honestly, it was fine. It’s more mentally than it was harder. It was necessary to switch quickly from an immense happiness to a return to everyday life. But it was.
This title does not change the fact that I can be very good in some matches, and much worse in others.
Some volleyball players recently told us that they didn’t realize they were Olympic champions? You, do you realize it?
Yes, I did it well with all the enthusiasm that there was behind, when we returned to France. It is true that at the time, during the first 3 or 4 days, I did not realize so much. There was joy, of course, but I didn’t fully appreciate what it meant.
Is today’s Hugo different from the pre-Tokyo Hugo?
No, it’s the same, except he has a gold medal around his neck as well (laughs).
Does it give you more self-confidence?
I wouldn’t say it’s a matter of trust, but rather of pride. The Olympics are the best, it is the competition the most followed by the French and it was incredible to see how much we were followed match after match. Even if we were far away, we felt pushed to go and win this title and the fact of having achieved it is a real pride.
Pride, but also perhaps additional pressure with a new status to assume?
Not at all. It would be a trap to want to overplay, outperform. This title does not change the fact that I can be very good in some matches, and much worse in others. It is not because I won this gold medal that I no longer have the right to make mistakes. Of course, there are people who will always think that as an Olympic champion you have to be exceptional in every game, as if it were a duty. But it’s still sport. A great player can get through, just as a smaller player can be exceptional in a game. So I don’t put any more pressure on myself than that and I try to be myself as much as possible.
Financially, of course, we had a very good bonus, but we can’t say that it changed my life. I did not win the Loto.
Has this Olympic title changed your life financially?
It changed my life in the sense that I joined the closed circle of French Olympic gold medalists, which is the best distinction for an athlete. Financially, of course, we had a very good bonus (65,000 euros), but we can’t say that it changed my life. I didn’t win the Loto (laughs).
In terms of contract, can this be negotiated, this status of reigning Olympic champion?
It is especially the fact of evolving in the French team which is a big plus. Now, I have a running contract with Montpellier and there was no question of renegotiating it. When my contract expires, I could answer you better (smile).
There is also the fact of having been voted best left winger of the competition …
Yes, it is an additional pride. I had always dreamed of experiencing such a competition in the French team, and even if it meant dreaming, I said to myself: why not also be voted the best player in my position? In my head, I told myself that it was possible, even when I was not in selection. And then there you go, in Tokyo, I had both and it’s a dream come true.
Have you been afraid, at some point in your career, that this dream would never come true?
Of course, when I went to Romania, everything became more complicated in my head. At that time, even though I had not given up on fulfilling my dream, it was obvious that I was putting the France team aside a bit. But from the moment Patrice (Canayer, the coach of Montpellier), came to pick me up at Dinamo Bucharest, I immediately said to myself that everything was possible again.
Why did you go to Romania?
Because with Créteil, the adventure had to stop. It was not going well with the new coach, Christophe Mazel, and concretely with Kamel Remili, the general manager of the club, it was clear that it was better for my career that I change clubs. I made the choice not to resign at Créteil. But behind, I did not receive good proposals in France because I no longer wanted to play in a club fighting only for its maintenance. I wanted to try to play the European Cup as much as possible. Alas, I did not have many interesting offers, except for Bucharest which was playing in the Champions League. So I took the risk of really going abroad, and not to Germany.
Did this experience make you mature?
Yes, obviously, it made me grow in handball, but also in my everyday life.
You know, when you come back from afar, you are no longer there to wonder.
However, without Montpellier, you would probably not have been to Tokyo …
It’s clear. I knew by signing there that I would have my chance to prove what I can do. As I had only signed for one year at first, I knew, however, that I would not be allowed to make mistakes. Either I had a very good season, and my horizon cleared up, or I couldn’t manage it and… But I didn’t have to let myself be overwhelmed by stress because I was convinced that I could succeed. That’s what happened, which allowed me to sign a new three-year contract and have my chance in the France team. In this area too, I am very proud of myself.
And in the France team, you won very quickly. We could have imagined that you were going to fumble a bit at the beginning, but you didn’t …
Yes, it is true that everything was very fast. But you know, when you come back from afar, you are no longer there to wonder. By signing in Montpellier, I felt that it was my moment, the one I had waited for so long and I could not miss it. Then, I have undoubtedly also had a share of success sometimes, I will not lie to myself. But really, I didn’t have to think about it all, telling myself that I had gone from there and that I was coming here. It’s just that I am never satisfied with what I do. It is often boring for my relatives elsewhere. In Tokyo I was voted best left winger but that doesn’t mean I’m going to twiddle my thumbs for three years. No, I want to be full all the time.
You do not feel installed in the French team …
Installed is a big word. Everything can go very quickly in sport, especially in handball with all the very good players in France. Look how fast it got for me. Tomorrow it may be another. Now, all the same, the French team which won the Olympics demonstrated its strength and I was one of them. So somewhere, even though I’m not installed, I have some credit. I don’t think I’m going to disappear from the lists suddenly. If I’m no good, yes, I would disappear. But if I keep up to a good level or better, still improve, I should always have my chance.