France mourns athletes who died in crash
PARIS — Olympic gold-medallist Camille Muffat had retired from swimming to focus on her personal life, boxer Alexis Vastine had some unfinished business after two disappointing Olympics and the beloved sailor Florence Arthaud was a pioneer for women in her sport.
The three athletes were among 10 people who died when two helicopters filming a reality show crashed Monday in a remote part of Argentina.
As France awoke to the news, the country’s political leaders and best-known sports figures registered their shock and expressed their condolences on television and social media.
The French sports daily L’Equipe’s website carried a picture of Muffat holding her gold medal in the 400-metre freestyle at the 2012 London Olympics alongside the words, “French Sport in Mourning.”
French President Francois Hollande spoke of his “immense sadness,” while the secretary of state for sport, Thierry Braillard, said, “French sport has lost three stars.”
The helicopters collided in mid-air in La Rioja province, about 1,170 kilometres northwest of Buenos Aires. Eight of those killed were French, the other two were Argentine. Authorities were at the scene of the crash late Monday trying to determine its cause.
The reality show Dropped on French channel TF1 consists of dropping two teams of competitors into a hostile environment and then filming their walk back to civilization.
“The world of sport and the Olympic family have lost three of their key members,” International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach said, adding the athletes “were all not only champions in their sport, but also contributed greatly as role models.”
The Olympic flag will be flown at half-staff for three days at IOC headquarters.
Muffat, who was 25, also won a silver medal in the 200 freestyle and a bronze in the 4x200-metre freestyle relay at the London Games. She retired last year.
Vastine won a bronze medal at the 2008 Games in Beijing after a controversial loss to Manuel Felix Diaz of the Dominican Republic in the semifinals.
Arthaud, who was 57, was a pioneer in sailing. In 1990, she became the first woman to win the famed Route du Rhum race — a trans-Atlantic single-handed yacht race between Brittany and the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe — on her boat Pierre 1er.