ASU’s Léon Marchand preps for Pac-12, NCAA championships en route to second Olympic appearance

Arizona State standout swimmer Léon Marchand focuses on NCAA success as he prepares to represent France in the upcoming 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris. (Photo courtesy of Sun Devil Athletics)

PHOENIX – Arizona State junior swimming savant Léon Marchand is expected to be the face of the French national team at the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris.

But first things first.

For now, Marchand is focused on getting through the Pac-12 Conference Men’s Swimming and Diving Championships and leading the Sun Devils in pursuit of an NCAA title. And that means remaining in the present and taking each meet one at a time.

“I think the NCAA system is good for that because we have one individual meet at a time,” Marchand said during a recent media availability. “I think we’ve been doing pretty well and just focusing on each dual meet. We won every single one except the one at Cal. We tied, but that was still a great one, too.

“Now I’ll focus on the next step, which is the Pac-12s in two weeks and then NCAA (Championships) in one month.”

Marchand has someone in his corner who coached the most decorated Olympian of all time, swimmer Michael Phelps.

In his eighth season at Arizona State, coach Bob Bowman brings a plethora of experience with Olympic swimmers. He also served as men’s head coach for Team USA at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games and as the assistant coach in the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London.

Marchand, a five-time NCAA champion, trusts his coach to have him prepared for what’s ahead the remainder of this season, knowing that the Olympic Games are right around the corner.

“Coach Bowman has been to the Olympics seven times already, so I think he knows how to handle that,” Marchand said. “It’s all different this time because, of course, we have another goal, which is the NCAA title that we’re trying to win.

“But he definitely has a lot of advice. He’s very calm, and he knows how to manage all of that. I just trust him, trust the process and try to work harder and harder every day to get ready when I will be at the NCAAs and in Paris.”

The Sun Devil men’s swim and dive team is trying to build upon the successes the Sun Devils had during the 2022-23 season. ASU was ranked No. 1 for the first time in program history, won its first Pac-12 Championship and was the first non-California program to win a conference title. Then the Sun Devils moved on to the NCAA championships, where they placed second nationally, the highest mark in program history.

So far in the 2023-24 season, ASU has continued to exceed expectations. The Sun Devils, with Marchand leading the way, are ranked No. 1 in the nation and have posted a 9-0-1 dual meet record, with the only tie coming against conference rival and No. 3 ranked California. The Golden Bears are also the defending national champs.

It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows for the program, though. A year before Marchand came to Tempe, the program was on hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That time allowed the Sun Devils to train and establish a new identity and intensity for the following years under Bowman.

When Marchand stepped onto campus for the first time, Bowman saw someone trying to navigate a new place, like many of his former swimmers and divers. Marchand has seen the program evolve since his freshman season.

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“I think the dynamic has been better every year since I came here,” Marchand said. “As a freshman, I didn’t want to say anything because you’re just following everyone, and I was kind of lost. So everyone was helping a lot and it was great, but the dynamic has been way better in the past few months.

“We are always together, we’re all friends, we spend a lot of time together, and I think we’re ready. We’ve been ready since August.”

Bowman echoed Marchand’s statement and offered insight into Marchand’s development since the 2021-22 season.

“He’s kind of taken the journey that most kids do in college, right?” Bowman said. “When you’re a freshman, you’re out on your own for the first time, have some freedom, have a little bit of responsibility but not too much. So to balance that a little bit, you have to learn how to do things for yourself.

“He was pretty independent when he came, but each successive year it’s been fun to see him grow as a man, as an athlete. And he’s very serious about swimming. So that was never a problem, and he’s learned how to manage the things away from the pool that everyone has to do when you go to college. So he’s really had just sort of a natural progression, very much like the other guys on the team.”

With the trust he has established with his swimmers, Bowman is not afraid to tell them how he feels about their performances. He knows each athlete is different and makes sure to tailor his comments to what will be most beneficial to each of them.

“Some people are auditory learners; they have to hear it,” Bowman said. “Some are visual, many are visual, and some are kinesthetic; they have to feel it.

“So you sort of get a feel for what that is, and then also their communication style. How do they like to be spoken to? What kind of feedback do they like to get? What is the best for them?

“Sometimes I have to give them stuff they don’t like to get, so you have to kind of understand that part. But I think in general, that’s how I start. I want to know them as a person, sort of what makes them tick and then sort of tailor the feedback around that.”

Lindsay Looney, a senior on Arizona State women’s team, has witnessed how the men’s and women’s programs have flourished since coming to Tempe. The 2023 All-American for the 200-meter fly and 500-meter freestyle gave recognition to her head coach for finding how each swimmer operates.

“He’s had to create different training styles for me, for Léon, for everybody else on the team, preparing for these big competitions,” Looney said during Friday’s Zoom call with reporters. “So much goes into it, and I think that’s one thing that we’ve definitely discovered over the past few years together.

“That’s something that I always have to trust and believe in him and know that he’s doing the right thing for me. And it’s reciprocal, and I know that whatever I’m doing I’m going to put my head down and work hard for that.”

With the Summer Olympics approaching in a matter of months, Marchand is trying to strike a balance in his schedule between classwork and time in the pool before the push through the Pac-12 meet, NCAA championships and Paris Games begins.

But he also tries to take time to relax.

“Just balancing between classes and being four hours in the water every day, it’s pretty hard,” Marchand said. “But this year I have less classes. I wanted to have more time for myself for the Olympic year.

“I usually just watch a show, listen to music, play video games and just hang out with my friends but we don’t have that much time, honestly. We’ve been playing “Call of Duty” with the team, it’s been pretty fun.”

“I’m not that good. I’m going to stick to swimming.”

Hayden Cilley HAY-din SIL-lee (he/him)
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Hayden Cilley expects to graduate in December 2024 with a master’s degree in mass communication. Cilley covered the Phoenix Mercury in 2022 for The Next Hoops and is writing and podcasting about the Mercury for PHNX Sports.

Sports Digital Producer, Phoenix

Braeden Steele expects to graduate in May 2025 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism and a minor in communication studies.