Artistic Gymnastics

Melanie de Jesus dos Santos: "I will be stronger in 2021."

The reigning European women's gymnastics champion remains focused on Tokyo Olympic glory

By Scott Bregman and Guillaume Depasse ·

French gymnast Melanie de Jesus dos Santos is used to overcoming obstacles in her way, and the postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics will be no different.

“I take that news with a lot of positive aspects,” the 2019 European all-around champion told Olympic Channel. “I will be stronger in 2021.”

While de Jesus dos Santos admits that the delay will be most difficult mentally, she also sees a chance to improve in the time before competition kicks off.

“It’s a good opportunity to progress, and I’ll have more chances to have good results,” she said.

At present, she is living in a house in the French countryside with teammates Alizée Letrange-Mouakit, Lorette Charpy and Aline Fries.

“Every morning, I have two-and-a-half hours of sport and some in the afternoon, as well,” she said of her current regimen. “Given the circumstances, we only do homemade workouts, including abs on a chair or skipping rope.”

In her down time, she and her teammates have found time to relax.

“We also take time to enjoy playing some board games with the girls and watching all the Disney moves,” she said.

The Frenchwoman has the potential to be among the world’s best women’s gymnasts. At last year’s World Championships, de Jesus dos Santos was a medal favourite in the all-around, having qualified to the final in third behind American superstar Simone Biles and her teammate Sunisa Lee.

But a disaster on the uneven bars, where she fell twice, dropped her to 20th position. She’s hoping to erase that memory and land on the Tokyo 2020 podium.

“My goal is to be on the podium,” de Jesus dos Santos said. “I’ll have some new routines, especially on floor. I’m working a double-double and a double layout.”

Resetting after Rio

Tokyo will be the 20-year-old’s first Olympic Games. Four years ago, she was age-eligible for Rio 2016 but injury held her back.

“I had a cruciate ligament rupture in 2015, and at that point, I knew that I was out of the Olympic road,” she said. “It was very difficult to accept at the beginning.”

But like so many before her, de Jesus dos Santos turned that disappointment into strength and fuel.

“The injury actually made me stronger mentally,” she said. “I was going to the physiotherapist every day with such a big motivation to come back.”

That drive propelled her to new heights, first showing she’d be a force in women’s gymnastics in 2017 when she earned a bronze medal in the all-around at the European Championships.

She followed that up with more success, including gold on the floor at the Europeans in 2018 and the floor and all-around European golds in 2019.

“Those titles gave me confidence and motivation to go further,” she said. “It helps me to know that I was able to compete with the best gymnasts.”

Early years

Born in Martinique in the Caribbean Sea, de Jesus dos Santos moved to mainland France at the age of 12.

“I was alone,” she said. “No friends, no family. That was tough to leave my parents, my friends, and my island. But I knew the reason why I was do it.”

It was meant to be a trial, but she adjusted and liked the environment. She stayed and found success, especially as she was able to focus more completely on gymnastics training.

“After my certification that I passed three years ago, I was able to fully dedicate myself to gymnastics,” she said. “It was actually at that point that I got my first international medals.”

Now, nearly eight years after she left her island, she remains focused on the ultimate payoff.

“If I left everything, that was for the Olympics.”