Melanie de Jesus dos Santos bids to end French women's medal drought

The 19-year-old reigning European floor and all-around champion hopes to claim her first World Artistic Gymnastics Championships medal in Stuttgart

Melanie de Jesus dos Santos seemed poised to make a run at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

But then, at the European Youth Olympic Festival in 2015, de Jesus dos Santos injured her knee badly during a vault in the qualification round.

Though she recovered and competed in the late spring of 2016, her hopes of competing at the Olympics were dashed. That disappointment is part of what fuels her as she prepares for Tokyo 2020, as one of the best artistic gymnasts in the world.

“That injury helped me mentally,” she told Olympic Channel. “It gave me a desire to catch up and regain what I had lost. I came back way more motivated.

And catch up, she did.

Moving on up

She started her 2017 campaign with a fine third at the American Cup, behind U.S. Olympic alternate Ragan Smith and Japan’s Asuka Teramoto.

Then at the European Championships, de Jesus dos Santos took all-around bronze for France's first medal in the all-around since 2005.

That break out year ended with an impressive fifth-place finish in the all-around final at the World Championships in Montreal.

Further good results have followed, including another top-six finish in the all-around at the 2018 Doha World Championships and gold in the floor and the all-around at the European Championships earlier this year.

“The fact that I won the gold medal was really a huge surprise,” de Jesus dos Santos admitted. “I was really happy.”

De Jesus dos Santos wasn’t even planning to compete in the uneven bars coming into those European Championships due to an injured finger

But a last-minute change of plan resulted in the all-around title ahead of Britain's Ellie Downie and Russia's Angelina Melnikova, one of the stars of Olympic Channel series 'All Around'.

“It’s very motivating,” she said. “But I still have a lot of work to do if I want to contend on the worlds and Olympic podium.”

Worlds apart

She’s already put in a lot of work – and sacrifice. Born in Martinique, a French island in the Caribbean Sea, she’s lived away from her family for nearly a decade.

“It’s a little difficult,” she said. “But it’s been nine years since I left my family, so I’m used to it.”

She got her start in the sport like so many others have, she was flipping around the house, she said, and asked her parents to enroll her in classes. She started at the age of five and by the time she was 13 had already become a member of the French national team.

Her father and two sisters live in Portugal while her mother is still in Martinique. She sees them from time-to-time, including a post-Europeans vacation to her motherland.

She quickly got back to full-time training with coaches Eric and Monique Hagard in Saint-Etienne though admitted that return was “a bit tough” post-holiday.

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Training with the greatest

Part of her training in the lead-up to Stuttgart has included time with the greatest the sport has to offer: Simone Biles.

For the second year in a row, members of the French national team traveled to Houston, Texas, to train at World Champions Centre, Biles’ home gym. The connection? Cecile Landi, a 1996 Olympian for France, and her husband Laurent, who have been coaching Biles since her return to training in late 2017.

The dominant American has played a role in her love of the sport.

While she remembers watching the 2012 Olympics in London, watching Biles and her French compatriots at Rio 2016 caught her attention.

“I was behind the TV and I was watching London 2012, but I was still small then,” the 19-year-old told Olympic Channel. “But in 2016, I was watching Simone and the French team.”

Like the rest of us, de Jesus dos Santos is in awe of Biles.

“I am super happy to be here,” she said. “All the girls in France dream to train with Simone or even to meet her, so I feel very lucky.”

Adding, “She’s amazing. I admire what she does all the time.”

De Jesus dos Santos is, of course, no slouch herself and is a contender for multiple medals in Stuttgart, including in the all-around. If the Frenchwoman can lift herself on to the podium, it would end a 10-year drought for the team at the Worlds.

“I would be ecstatic and very honoured,” she said, “but it doesn’t happen randomly. I need to work hard for that to happen.”

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