"The International Olympic Committee has the honour of announcing that the Games of the 30th Olympiad in 2012 are awarded to the city of London."

I can still see the despair etched on the faces of the French delegation after this declaration by IOC President Jacques Rogge in Singapore five years ago.

Not only had Paris been widely expected to win, but it was their second consecutive disappointment after losing out to Beijing in the race for the 2008 Olympics.

But might France end up having the last laugh?

I first started to wonder about this last month, studying results from the European Athletics and Aquatics Championships.

If you remember, we in the UK got pretty excited about the hauls achieved by the British teams - 19 medals from both Barcelona and Budapest - and justifiably so.

The thing was though, I couldn’t help noticing amid the laps of honour and back-patting that the French - with 16 golds against Britain’s 12 and 41 medals in all - had done even better.

Fair enough, but perhaps nos amis from across the Channel were in danger of peaking too early - as, arguably, they had in the contest to host the 2012 Games in the first place.

Plus British athletes still had the Commonwealth Games to negotiate and had no doubt calibrated their own preparation regimes accordingly.

So I put out feelers to ascertain whether there appeared to be anything underpinning these French performance levels.

And - what do you know? - there is.

In a sentence, the French National Institute of Sport and Physical Education (INSEP), located in the Bois de Vincennes just east of Paris, is being transformed with more than €200 million of new investment.



The Institute, which caters for the vast majority of Olympic sports, is a veritable hothouse of talent, working with 630 top-level athletes, just under 400 of whom are lodged there and 150 are under-18.

The fencing contingent alone is more than 80-strong.

According to Thierry Maudet, the body’s director-general, more than half of the French team in at the European Athletics Championships in Barcelona were INSEP athletes.

And while the best French swimmers tend to be based with outside clubs, some of these have still been to INSEP for short-term courses.

Anew pool, the last phase of the current renovation, is scheduled to be ready in mid-2013.

As Maudet (pictured right) explained to me, the Vincennes site is divided into two zones: the south zone, where the sports facilities themselves are located; and the north zone, containing support buildings.

Renovation of the north zone, costing €100 million, was completed in mid-May and was something of a flagship project, being, according to Maudet, the French state’s first public-private partnership.

In the south zone, hockey and synchronised swimming facilities have been completed, along with a 13,000 sq metre fencing, gymnastics, wrestling and taekwondo centre.

One recent visitor described this as "an incredible training facility, with each training space adjacent to coaches’ offices and video feedback rooms".

Between now and 2012, said Maudet, facilities for a string of other sports - including basketball, badminton, archery, tennis, judo, table tennis, shooting and boxing - are scheduled for renovation.

In some ways, the most interesting thing of all to me was that the new INSEP, as Maudet tells the story, is a genuine legacy of the failed 2012 bid.

When the renovation plan was approved in April 2004, he told me, the then Sports Minister Jean-François Lamour was helped by the unusual degree of unity stemming from the notion that Paris at that time was considered "sure and certain" to get the 2012 Games.

At the Beijing Olympics, according to Maudet, just over half of French medallists were either at INSEP or had spent at least two years there.

So if the upgraded facilities result in a further generalised uptick in French athletes’ performance, the impact on the London 2012 medals table could be highly significant.

Now France was only 10th on the Beijing medals list because its haul of 41 included just seven golds.

What is more Great Britain will field a monster team of 500-plus in London - and will have home advantage.

Though it will do well to improve much on its astonishing 47-medal haul (including 19 golds) in the Chinese capital, I think Team GB will improve a little, bursting through the 50-medal barrier for the first time in more than a century.

With Germany and Australia also in the mix, fourth-place in London will take some achieving.

Certainly, Maudet is far too canny to predict it: "We hope we will be au rendez-vous," he told me, a formulation I would perhaps convey, in this context, as "up to speed".

Nonetheless, given the way French athletes are already performing in the two core Olympic sports and the potential for further acceleration as the new INSEP facilities come onstream, I think they have to be seen as a serious threat.

Fourth place in London? Not a bad way to bounce back from the catastrophe of Singapore.

Don’t say you weren’t warned.

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