Melanie De Jesus Dos Santos: “Having fun at Paris 2024, because I couldn't in Tokyo”

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It’s time for comebacks.

First one, competition. Melanie De Jesus Dos Santos hasn’t competed internationally since the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, but will be back in action at the Internationaux de France, part of World Challenge Cup series, on 24-25 September in the Bercy Arena, the Olympic venue where Paris 2024 artistic gymnastics competition will be held.

But it’s also a comeback in France for de Jesus dos Santos, who moved in the USA last May. She now trains in the gym owned by Simone Biles’ family in Texas, with coaches Cecile and Laurent Landi, who have worked with the American superstar since 2017. Such a move oversees was motivated by a desire to succeed at the home Games, but also by a need of change.

“I need to see something else, and other people. This new frame allows me to start from scratch and recover my motivation,” said the Martinique-born in an exclusive interview with Olympics.com.

De Jesus dos Santos: “I know I could have done more”

She felt this need for change after the Tokyo Games, where she was considered as one of the best chances for French gymnastics. She finished 11th in the all-around event, sixth at the uneven bars event, and sixth in the Team event.

Good performances for the 21-year-old gymnast, but tough to accept for the four-time European champion (floor in 2018, all-around and floor in 2019, balance beam in 2021).

“After a step back, I told myself that for my first Games, it went pretty well. But I was disappointed because I knew I could have done more and I didn’t.”

The good thing is that she knows why she couldn’t give it all.

“That was the first time I was that stressed, because I think there was high expectations around the team, and myself. I couldn’t handle that.”

“I discovered a stress that I never felt before, and I think that’s the reason why I didn’t do well at the Games.”

Simone Biles’s Gold Over America Tour helped me to let go

Once the Games were over, she needed to think about what happened. And for DJDS, staying away from competition was necessary.

“I took a lot of step back, because I felt like I was bad at gymnastics,” she recalls.

A few weeks later, she was invited by Biles, the owner of four Olympic titles, to participate in the Gold Over America Tour. For over two months and around 35 different cities in the United States, she enjoyed her passion without the goal of winning a medal.

It was all just for the show.

“It helped me to let go, to enjoy gymnastics. Because it’s rare to have fun like I did on the Tour. [All year long], we are in a competition mode, while on the Tour, we have fun with the public, and we don’t take it too seriously. It made me realise how much I loved gymnastics.”

De Jesus Dos Santos: “At first, I felt pain everywhere”

Since Tokyo 2020, it’s been step back from competition, followed by a new start for de Jesus dos Santos.

Ten years after moving from her native island of Martinique to Saint-Etienne on France’s mainland to focus on gymnastics with coaches Eric and Monique Hagard, she has moved to Spring, in the north of Houston, Texas, to join the World Champions Centre, where Biles has trained since 2016.

There, she works with the French coaches, Cécile and Laurent Landi.

The move is a big jump oversees where a new life was waiting for her.

“It was a bit tough at the beginning, as I didn’t know how life was here. In a country that I don’t know, where I don’t know the language and the people, adaptation is tough. But adaptation is my strong point.”

She also discovered a new way of training.

“You start training at 7am here, while it was 9:30am in France, and 10:15 when we had school.

“Physical preparation was not the same either. We do more reps without being too fast. At first, I felt pain everywhere,” she recalled of her first days in her training regimen. “I had soreness that I never felt before. But on some exercises, I noticed that it helped me a lot.”

De Jesus dos Santos on Simone Biles

In this big training center where club members share the facilities with some of the best in the world, she can also rub shoulders with Biles, an inspiring presence for DJDS.

“I admire her mental and physical capacities, as well as her easiness with gymnastics,” says the French gymnast, with the goal of being at the top, physically and mentally, for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.

“I know I can climb on the podium, but I don’t want to put extra pressure on me, as that was why I was weak at the Tokyo Olympics. I was mentally prepared to get a medal and I think that was too much pressure. So [in Paris], I just want to be the best version of myself, and come with stronger routines than I had in Tokyo. Then, trying to fight with the best ones.”

But most importantly, she wants to have fun at this Games held in her home country.

“I want to have fun and enjoy those Games, because I couldn’t in Tokyo. Those Games are in Paris, and I think the ambiance will be awesome.”

The first taste of what may be to come is starting Saturday in the Bercy Arena. The event will serve as warm-up for the World Championships, scheduled in Liverpool from 29 October to 6 November.


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