For French captain Ugo Crousillat, it was the definitive moment of his long career — to eject the much-bemedalled Hungary from its throne — and place his team in the medal round.

It was a coming of age, a moment in time that Crousillat and his merry men wish to emulate time and again — especially in Olympic year and especially when those Olympics are being played in the heart of the French nation — Paris.

Looking back at that night in Doha, left-hander Crousillat arrived in the mixed zone in tears of joy. The toil and strain of the match, may have brought redness to his eyes, but it was the emotion that overwhelmed him as he tried to speak.

“The big emotion is something crazy for us, for France, to come to the semifinal of the world championship. We came from really down today to beat Hungary; it’s something amazing and now we must go until the end. If we are here, it’s not a mistake; we are here because we deserve it. We want more. We must stay unbelievably calm and we must enjoy this moment.”

Stoic words from a captain who leads by example, scoring three goals and then participating as team-mate Thomas Vernoux created his magic with two goals in the third quarter and a further three goals in the final quarter to surpass Hungary 11-10.

France might not have finished the tournament the way it wanted, losing to Croatia 17-16 in a nail-biting penalty shootout in the semifinals and then bowing 14-10 to European champion Spain in the bronze play-off, however, the dream had been relished, fuelled and reinvigorated the team for future conquests.

Image Source: Ugo Crousillat/World Aquatics

Crousillat The Athlete

Who is Crousillat, this 33-year-old, 192cm specimen of an elite water polo player?

His career started at Marseille when he was eight years old and started his professional career at 16.

“In 2012, I moved to Budva then in Brescia (Italy) and in 2015 I came back to Marseille. I moved again to Szolnok (Hungary) and Aix Provence (France) before coming back home for five years. 

“I started in the national team in 2008. I played for Montenegro between 2013 and 2015 and returned for the 2016 Olympics with France (where it finished 11th).”

He has an impressive cupboard of medals, winning the French league nine times; six  

French Cups; the  Montenegrin League; silver medal in the 2013 FINA World Championships with Montenegro; won the Hungarian League; Hungarian Cup and European Super Cup and Champions League. 

From Then To Now

When first making the national senior team, what were your aspirations as a player:

“When I started in the national team, my aspiration was to qualify for the Olympics. That was my first goal when I started.” 

As the host nation, the comfort of having the 2024 Olympic berth, how does that play on your mind:

“I think to play the Olympics at home would be an amazing opportunity; we are lucky to have that. We need to use all the energy to come from outside the pool to reach a good result (medal). There will be many candidates for the medals in Paris. Some will have other advantages; one of ours will be to be at home.” 

What is the expectation now from your nation:

“The expectation is to reach the medals. We know it will be very tough. As I said, for me eight-nine teams can do it. The level is very strong…we need to believe in us and not to put so much pressure on us considering in 2020  we were 13th in the Europeans…we need to stay humble and to work hard.”

How have the placings in Zagreb and Doha helped in your Olympic dream:

“Especially in Doha, the fourth place, shows us that now it’s possible.” 

Image Source: Aniko Kovacs/World Aquatics

The victory over Hungary. What were your emotions:

“After the Hungary match there were many emotions, of course, but two will dominate. Thinking of my father (Marc Crousillat, like his uncle Michel Crousillat were also Olympic water polo players — Seoul 1988) who was for sure really proud and I remember how it was difficult after 15 years to arrive here. All the roads we had to pass; one big step, which I believe is not our limit!”

What motivates you to get the best out of your playing:

“My motivation has always been to win one medal in one top competition and to be the best in my position. I haven’t achieved that yet, so I am very motivated.” 

What will go through your mind when you stand on the presentation podium before the first match in Paris:

“Thinking about my father like always. Watching my family and friends in the crowds and being focused in the game.”

What does France need to do to get into the medals:

“We need to use the preparation to improve move individually, with the team and be focused.” 

Tell me something about yourself that few people know:

“Nothing really. I think I am a really authentic person, but I hope people know that already (he laughs)! For the rest, I don’t have any secret.”

In Summary

The real secret is his ability to inspire by deed and his ambition to have the Tricolor rise high during an Olympic Games which start in a little more than three months’ time. Allez France.