This year, more than any other, Olympique Lyonnais are living up to their name. Of the 18 players who will line-up for the French club in Thursday’s UEFA Women’s Champions League final against Wolfsburg, no fewer than 13 look bound for the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament Rio 2016 on 3-20 August. Among them is Elodie Thomis, who is in the form of her life.
“I’m on top of my game,” the player told FIFA.com at the end of a season that has already brought her French league and cup winners’ medals. “When you’ve got a big game like a Champions League final coming up, you tend to forget about your physical problems and how tired you are. Obviously, at the end of the match on Thursday I’ll probably be feeling a whole season of football in my legs a little more.”
Those legs have been working wonders right from the very start of her career. Born in the Parisian suburb of Colombes, the fleet-footed Thomis, whose parents hail from Martinique, was a budding sprinter when she got herself noticed at a youth football tournament in Epinay.
“I am quite quick,” she confirmed. “But for a long time running was all I knew how to do. I had to work very hard to make up for my lack of technique. In fact, I’m still working on that today. I started football very late.”
Thomis was 14 when she first kicked a ball in earnest and joined her first club, Clairefontaine, at the age of 17. She learned her trade there for two years before signing for Montpellier, earning a place in the France team, and then moving on to Olympique Lyon, in 2007.
“The national team coach Philippe Bergeroo tries to make the most of her speed,” explained Patrice Lair, her former coach at Montpellier and Lyon, and who has just taken on the Paris Saint Germain job. “When I started working with her early in her career, after she left Clairefontaine, she gave us an extra gear. We were a decent side but our build-up play was too slow. She’s the fastest player in the world.”
Reflecting on her career to date, which has brought her 129 caps and 32 goals for her country, not to mention 17 club titles (eight French league championships, five French Cups and two Women’s Champions League crowns), Thomis said: “I don’t have any regrets about the choices I’ve made. I loved athletics, which to my mind is the sport that makes the Olympic Games so special, but I don’t think it would ever have given me the chance to win as much as I have in football.”
The lure of continental glory Yet more silverware could come her way on Thursday when l’OL will vie for the biggest prize in European women’s club football against a Wolfsburg side that deprived them of a historic treble in 2013.
“We’re not looking for revenge,” said the 29-year-old Thomis. “It’s just another match. Wolfsburg are a great side and we’re delighted to be facing them again at this stage of the competition. We have different things to offer these days and new players who weren’t with us in 2013. We’re aware how privileged we are to be playing in this match, and it’s up to us not to let the opportunity slip.”
Explaining why she continues to chase success, even after having experienced so much of it, she said: “I never tire of winning titles. I can never get enough of them, and here at Lyon we’re in the process of achieving something unique. I do have another dream away from l’OL, though, and that’s to win a title with the national team.”
A burning desire It just so happens that the next international competition on the horizon is a big one: the Olympic Games no less. “Even though we lost in the semis, I have some very good memories of the London 2012 tournament and of the Village, where we got to meet athletes from around the world. The atmosphere was brilliant and I really enjoyed the food too. This time, though, we want a medal.”
Asked if taking part was the most important thing when it comes to the Olympics, a philosophy dear to Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Games, Thomis had an emphatic answer: “No. It’s competing that counts.”
At the end of the conversation, Thomis added: “You have to qualify to play matches and tournaments like this, and that’s really tough. If you do make it, you need to have your mind on the job when you go there, and not get carried away. You have to give it everything. Nothing is easy: that’s what I’ve learned from life.”