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Handball experts cheer up France

French mourn poor Olympic Games despite finishing higher up medal table

THE 30th Olympic Games ended in London with France notching up 34 medals - but a brilliant battling final effort from the men's handball team put some shine on what has been seen as a disappointing tournament.

Finishing in seventh place in the medal table - well behind China, US and the UK - France could point to notable success in the swimming pool and on the judo mat but did not do as well as expected in fencing and showjumping. It also improved on its medal table placing from 10th in Pekin, with 11 gold medals and 11 silver pushing it higher.

The handball team - nicknamed Les Experts (although they are now asking for a new name to be found) - made history by becoming the first to retain the Olympic title after beating Sweden by one goal in a nerve-wracking and pulsating final. It also gave Sweden an unwanted distinction: of winning silver four times.

Les Experts celebrated in style, emulating Usain Bolt's "lightning bolt" pose as they stood on the podium.

Just 24 hours earlier, Bretonne Julie Bresset was cheered by thousands of fans at Hadleigh as she destroyed the field in her first Olympics to claim the gold medal in the mountain bike event. However, teammate and reigning men's champion Julien Absalon could not repeat the feat yesterday after picking up a puncture and missed out on his third title.

Earlier, the French had exceeded hopes in the pool where Yannick Agnel and Camille Muffat took six medals, including three gold. Florent Manaudou, the brother of former Olympic and world champion Laure Manaudou, made his own name in winning the the 50m freestyle gold.

But there were blows for the likes of Laura Flessel, the flag-bearer at the opening ceremony, who failed to win a fencing medal and Christophe Lemaitre who finished sixth in the 200m sprint.

However, as the Olympic Flame was extinguished and the smoke from fireworks hung in the sky there is a distinct whiff of sour grapes in many French media reports - pointing to claimed lack of "British fair play" in events such as the cycling, boxing and diving competitions.

In cycling, Britain won 12 medals, including seven gold, and produced what International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge said was a "defining moment" of the Games with Chris Hoy's tears at winning his sixth gold.

But French commentators have pointed to Hoy's teammate Philip Hindes who admitted crashing to get a restart in the team sprint heats.

British Prime Minister David Cameron was quoted as saying the Team GB medals had "driven the French mad". He added: "I was interviewed on French TV and they virtually accused us of cheating."

Some of the claims blew up in French faces when after demanding to know the secret of the Team GB wheels - they were Mavic wheels; made in France.

Photo: williamsdb/Flickr

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