“It’s been a little bit crazy. I’ve been world champion and European champion and also[set a European record, so I’m very proud."
By anyone’s standards, it has been a whirlwind two years for France’s latest Para swimming sensation Ugo Didier.
Having only turned his attention to competitive swimming at the age of 14, the now 17-year-old S9 athlete was selected for his first international meet in 2017.
Within a matter of months, he was winning a gold medal at the World Para Swimming Championships over 100m backstroke in Mexico City.
As if that were not enough, Didier went on to finish narrowly outside the medals twice more at his maiden worlds, earning fourth place in the 200m individual medley SM9 and the 400m freestyle S9.
It was an explosive introduction to top-level competition, and the youngster backed it up the following year as he repeated his gold medal-winning antics by clinching first place in the 100m backstroke S9 at the 2018 World Para Swimming Allianz European Championships in Dublin, Ireland. For good measure, his 1:03.10 swim in that final set a European record.
“The last two years were wonderful for me because I started Para swimming a little bit late,” said the amiable teenager.
“It’s been a little bit crazy. I’ve been world champion and European champion and also [set] a European record, so I’m very proud.”
Battling the best
In Melbourne, the youngster found himself up against some seriously experienced, high-quality athletes as he looked to continue his remarkable upward trajectory in the sport.
He picked up two silver medals at the World Series meet, finishing runner-up to two Paralympic legends along the way.
In the multi-class 400m freestyle on the opening night he was edged out by Australia’s Brenden Hall, a man who boasts three Paralympic gold medals and eight world titles on his resumé.
It was to be a similar story in the multi-class 100m backstroke, Didier’s signature event, when New Zealand’s resurgent Cameron Leslie picked up his third gold medal at Melbourne 2019. The fact that the Kiwi swimmer posted an S4 world-record time of 1:34.42 to win the race is a sign of the challenge provided by the French student, who registered 911 under the multi-class point score (MCPS) system, compared to Leslie’s 939.
“The pool here is wonderful. It’s one of the most beautiful pools I’ve ever seen,” Didier said. “I’ve enjoyed my racing a lot.”
There is little doubt that Didier could be one of the leading contenders in Para swimming over the next few years, and he showed his passion for competing for France as he roared on Claire Supiot from the sidelines as his teammate narrowly missed out on a third gold medal of the meet in the women’s 200m freestyle IM on the last night in Melbourne.
The youngster admits, though, that while the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games is a target, his real dreams lie a little further afield.
“My first goal is for this [this year’s] World Para Swimming World Championships,” he said. “Maybe for next year the Paralympics [in Tokyo]. I hope to participate.
“But in five years there is the Paralympics in Paris, France. It’s a Games at home and it will be, I’m sure, an incredible experience.”
After the remarkable two years he has already enjoyed as an elite athlete, you would not bet against Ugo Didier attending those Games in home waters as a reigning Paralympic champion.