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'The kid is incredible:' Léon Marchand's freshman year at ASU ends with record-breaking performance

He first put the world on notice in 2019 and since, Marchand has willed himself into a global star in swimming

leon marchand

Léon Marchand holds his trophy after winning the IM 200 at the NCAA Championships on Thursday, March 24, 2022.

When Léon Marchand started swimming at the age of 7 in his hometown of Toulouse, France, a future career in the sport wasn't on his mind. 

"At the beginning, I just did swimming because I had to do a sport," Marchand said. It wasn't until high school that Marchand's love for swimming really sparked.

Marchand first put the world on notice in 2019 when he swam in the World Junior Championships in Budapest, Hungry where he earned a bronze medal in the 400 individual medley setting a French record of 4:16.37. 

In 2020, Marchand represented France in the Summer Olympics where he swam in the 400- and 200-meter individual medley, 200 butterfly and the 4x10 medley relay. Just one year removed from the Olympics, Marchand broke the record for the 400 individual medley at the French Olympic trials with a time of 4:09.65. 

After his breakout performance in France, Marchand knew his next move would be to swim in the United States.

"I couldn't do class and training at a high level at the same time in France, it's difficult to do," Marchand said. "So I knew that the American system was better for me. I feel like I'm having more fun here than in France because we are doing new stuff every day."

During the recruitment process, swim and dive head coach Bob Bowman noticed the player and person Marchand was.

"As a person, I was amazed how humble and kind he was," Bowman said. "As an athlete, I was amazed how good he was underwater. His kicking underwater was amazing and I didn't even know how good it was at the time quite frankly. He was very well-coached in high school so he has a very strong background technically."

After meeting with Bowman, Marchand committed to an ASU swim and dive program that had not competed in almost two years due to COVID. 

Upon arriving, one Sun Devil swimmer specifically took notice of Marchand's work ethic and dedication. 

"He is nothing short of impressive," said redshirt sophomore John Heaphy. "I mean he is a pro in every sense of the word. He doesn't complain and works his butt off every day."

Marchand's work ethic paid off in his freshman season at the North Carolina State Invite. He broke the school record in the 200 fly, 200 and 400 IM and the 800 free relay. 

As the season progressed, Marchand got more comfortable at ASU as he became a more mature version of himself, his coaches said.

"As a person, he's grown a lot, just being independent and having to manage everything by himself," Bowman said. "I think in swimming, he's just taken on every challenge and has gotten quite a bit of confidence because every step of the way he's moved to the next level. I think in general he has an open mind and that is a great attribute to have."

When it came to postseason play, Marchand boosted his game to new heights. Marchand's most impressive day of his collegiate career came at the NCAA Championships where he won the 200-meter breaststroke and set an NCAA record in the 200 IM at 1:37.69. ASU finished sixth overall in the championship standings, its highest placement since 1982. 

"It was pretty amazing," Marchand said. "I didn't know I would be that fast. I was just ready for the NCAAs and the adaptation to shock."

Marchand and Heaphy were pleasantly surprised by his record-breaking performance. 

"I knew he was going to go fast but I did not think he was going to break the American record," Heaphy said. "I actually have no words for that performance. Everyone was losing their minds. It's hard not to be happy for him; the kid is incredible."

Marchand's championship performance put this ASU swim and dive program back on the map and could impact the direction of the team for years to come.

"We are playing with a full deck of cards," Bowman said. "We have coaching, we have facilities and we have the school, but now you are going to be playing with the NCAA swimmer of the year, you are going to be training with Pac-12 champs. You're going to be a part of that, and that's what people want to know."

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