Laure Manaudou (French pronunciation: [lɔʁ manodu]; born 9 October 1986 in Villeurbanne, Rhône) is a retiredFrench Olympic, world and European champion swimmer. She has held the world record in freestyle events between 200 and 1500 meter. She is the daughter of a French father and a Dutch mother and the older sister of Florent Manaudou who is also an Olympic gold medalist swimmer.
She won the gold medal in the women's 400-meter freestyle at the 2004 Athens Olympics. It was France's first gold medal ever in women's swimming and the first swimming gold medal won by a French athlete since Jean Boiteux's victory in the 400-meter men's freestyle event at Helsinki in 1952. Manaudou won the silver medal in the women's 800-meter freestyle at the Athens Olympics. In that race, she had a quick start but was passed down the stretch by Ai Shibata of Japan. She also won the bronze medal in the women's 100-meter backstroke, thus becoming only the second Frenchwoman to win three medals in a single Olympic Games, Summer or Winter. The first one was the track and field athlete Micheline Ostermeyer in London in 1948. Manaudou was by far the best swimmer on the French team, but she did not have the team support to win a medal in the women's 4×200 m freestyle relay.
On 24 July 2005 at the 2005 World Aquatics Championships in Montreal, Canada, Manaudou won the women's 400-m freestyle. Manaudou was under world record pace for the first half of the race. In the second half of the race, Manaudou was challenged by Shibata, her rival from the Olympics. Pundits were already predicting that Manaudou would eventually eclipse the world-record mark in the 400-m freestyle set by Janet Evans at the 1988 Summer Olympics. This would happen on 12 May 2006, as she broke Evans's world record of 4:03.85 during the final of the French championship in Tours with the time of 4:03.03.
On 12 May 2006, Manaudou broke Janet Evans's world record in the women's 400-meter freestyle swim that had stood for 18 years. Manaudou then held the same world record for nearly two years.
On 6 August 2006, on the final day of the 2006 European Swimming Championships in Budapest, she broke her own world record with a time of 4:02.13 in winning the 400-m freestyle title. She also won the 800-m freestyle (in European record time), 200-m individual medley and 100-m backstroke titles. In addition, she obtained the bronze medal in the 200-m freestyle, 4×200-m team freestyle and 4×100-m team medley. With her four titles, she equalled the record of the number of individual titles won in the same European swimming championships held by East Germany's Ute Geweniger (1981) and Hungary's Krisztina Egerszegi (1993).
Manaudou broke the 200-m freestyle world record at the 2007 World Swimming Championships in Melbourne in winning the final. She also won the 400-m freestyle event. She obtained silver medals in the 100-m backstroke and the 800-m freestyle, and a bronze for 4×200-m freestyle relay. In the 100-m backstroke, she became the second woman in history to swim under a minute in the event. She was leading the race in the 800-m final going into the last lap, but the American Kate Ziegler finally overtook her in the last metres to win by a margin of 28 cm. She was thus prevented from becoming the first female swimmer to win the 200-m, 400-m and 800-m freestyle titles at the same World Championships.
In the 2008 Summer Olympics, Manaudou was unable to recapture her form from the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens. After starting strong and holding the lead at the 200-meter mark, she finished last (eighth) in the 400-m freestyle final with a finishing time of 4:11.26. After the defeat, Manaudou admitted giving up during the race after struggling to keep up. She then finished seventh in the 100-m backstroke final. In her final hope for a medal, in the 200-m backstroke, she finished last in her semifinal heat and was eliminated.
On 17 September 2009, at 22 years of age, Manaudou announced through the newspaper Le Parisien her retirement from competitive swimming. She was quoted as saying, "It came to me little by little. I didn’t make it on impulse. It has matured slowly.” In October 2010, she returned to training in the United States with the Auburn University Tigers swim team. She made her return to competition on July 14, 2011, in Tigers colours at a small swimming meet in Athens, Georgia, in the United States, where she set a personal record in the 50-m freestyle event (25.84 s).
Manaudou competed in the 2012 Summer Olympics in three events - 100 m backstroke, 200 m backstroke, and the 4 x 100 m medley relay. She failed to advance from the first round heats in all the three events. However, she was poolside on August 3 as her younger brother Florent won a surprise victory in the men's 50 m freestyle final, and embraced him following his victory
The weekly magazine Paris Match ran a cover story on Manaudou in its 5–11 April 2007 issue.
From 2001–2007, Manaudou was coached by Philippe Lucas. She competed for the Melun-Dammarie club until 2006, when she moved to Canet-en-Roussillon.
On 9 May 2007, she announced at a press conference at the Canet-en-Roussillon swim club that she was leaving her coach Philippe Lucas to move to Italy and to train with the club Lapresse Nuoto, located in Turin. She added, however, that she would continue to swim for France.
On 6 August, it was reported that Manaudou had been removed from her Italian-based team. The split is said to have been triggered by a fallout between Manaudou and LaPresse Nuoto club chief executive Paolo Penso. Penso is believed to have questioned Manaudou's attitude to training (Reuters/L'Equipe).
Manaudou won four medals in the European Championships of 2007, despite reported conflicts between her and her Italian ex-boyfriend.
On April 2, 2010, she and her boyfriend, Frédérick Bousquet, also a world-class swimmer, welcomed their first child, daughter Manon.