The 36-year-old goalkeeper of the France team decided to end his career. A choice he came to explain to Figaro, and many other issues.
Amandine, when you look back on what is now yours, what will you remember from your last game?
Amandine Leynaud: After a crazy weekend, I feel very lucky to have the last game in the Champions League final at the highest level. Even though the gold medal wasn’t there, I really enjoyed every moment and that’s what I will remember from this weekend and this last game was played in front of an audience of 16,000. This shows how much women’s handball has evolved since the beginning of my career. It was a lot of fun and I really enjoyed it to the fullest.
Did it help you enjoy making your decision to quit months ago more?
Sure. I think this decision is the result of a long process. When you become a top athlete, you find yourself in a machine that you play every three days. There is always more to do and more to find. It never stops and sometimes it’s hard to just enjoy the moment. Making my decision too early allowed me to free myself, enjoy every moment, tell myself that I am still doing what I love. And I’m very happy that I made the choice for the end of my career without injury and still not too bad (smile). I couldn’t have imagined better in the French team or in a club.
I’ve even been offered major contracts, including Gyor, where they said I could change my mind whenever I wanted.
When you say “not bad” you’re being humble. You’re still largely level and why stop at 36 when we see athletes and women keep going until 40?
It’s more of a personal life choice. I want to enjoy my children. While being a top athlete is an extraordinary experience that allows me to experience moments that I will never experience again, I think life can bring me other things. I will definitely miss the adrenaline of the matches but this is not the end in itself. The high-level sport has grown and developed me, and I’m exactly at a time in my life where I need to use all of this in new challenges. I want to discover other things. Play handball, I know how it’s done. Even big contracts were offered (smiles), including Gyor, where they said I could change my mind whenever I wanted. But I also… (thinks) I wanted to finish at the highest level. Like I said, I wanted an ending like this. I know the sacrifices you have to make to be at this level, and it’s getting harder and harder. I have no regrets.
How much do you care about winning everything (Olympic, world, European champion, Champions League champion, etc.) and your track record?
This is a frequently asked question to know what it feels like to have won everything in my sport… If it were the other way around, I don’t know how I would have reacted if I hadn’t won. gained nothing or very little. Would I still want to continue? Maybe not having made all these sacrifices for nothing makes me at peace with myself. I feel real relief. I was lucky enough to thrive on teams that allowed me to achieve this. I know a lot of players who were or still are outstanding when they deserve it a thousand times and have never won major titles.
You were talking about your desire for new challenges. Are they in handball or in a completely different universe?
At first it will be handball because it is still what I do best (laughs). I’ve always had this desire to share my experiences. I did it with Laura (Glauser) and Cléo (Darleux) in the France team. The goalkeeper position is so specific that I think I can win some youngsters. I find it selfish not to share everything I’ve learned in my career. But I also want to explore many other things. what? That’s the whole question, but I’m really open to anything. I want to meet new people to keep learning, to progress. I’m lucky to be able to live several lives together, that’s so cool (smile).
How do you plan to find the right balance between your family life and your professional life?
It will be very simple for me: I would make my choices based on the time I could spend with my family. I’ve been working continuously for 20 years, today I don’t feel like it. He’ll be back in two or three years, but I think I’ve earned the right to enjoy my kids a little more. When your sports career is over, I think you shouldn’t fall into the trap of getting carried away and saying yes to all requests. I am a simple person, I like simple things. My choices will depend on my family’s well-being before mine, as they put theirs on hold throughout my career.
Handball has given me much more than it has taken from me.
Do you think you have sacrificed a lot in your career?
Of course you sacrifice a lot. You leave your parents at the age of 15, you don’t have the same social life as a 17-18 year old girl, you pay attention to everything… Then when you start a family, you make other sacrifices. I was lucky to have my wife who always supported me on my journey. And if there were sacrifices, they weighed far less than anything my career has given me. I love Ardèche, and I will come back to live there, but if I always stayed there… Handball brought me much more than it took me away. When I say handball, I’m not just talking about medals, I’m talking about matches, being open-minded, learning a new language… It has enriched me a lot. The human aspect in my eyes is very important and has helped me become the woman I am today.
Are you afraid of what many former athletes or sportswomen describe as a minor death at the end of their career?
Not at all, maybe I’m wrong… I don’t know, I would go skydiving to get some adrenaline (laughs). You can always have other experiences. It is up to everyone to be at peace with themselves. And then I am a calm person who enjoys very simple moments. For example, a family dinner, I missed so much that I am happy to be able to experience them. It’s not adrenaline, it’s love. There are things that I may have missed throughout my career that I will have time to do now and that will bring me that balance.
You’ve been an example throughout your career, but that doesn’t give the impression of playing a role. Or in other words, you never tried to be an example, naturally…
All I was looking for was to set an example on the field. I wanted to be good for my team and I wanted people to just talk about my performance. I’m not a social media person who likes to show off. Even after a match, I’m not very comfortable with individual compliments. Simply put, I like to be professional and take on the status they want to give me. It got me moving too. I love competition, it’s rooting for me. But off the field yes, I didn’t force anything, it came naturally. I was myself and never sought anything but to please myself.
Today, I get the impression that the moment you’re part of a community, you have to talk about it, demand it, in quotes.
There has been a lot of talk lately about homosexuality in sports. You made your “debut” a long time ago, but didn’t want to talk about it any more?
No, why should I? For me, everyone knew that and I live normally. I know that there are many young people who are having a hard time because of their sexual orientation. But I have lived quite simply, and I do not feel a duty to justify myself. Just as I don’t think I have the right to give unfamiliar advice to people who are suffering. Today, I get the impression that the moment you’re part of a community, you have to talk about it, demand it, in quotes. I’m very happy if I can help some young people assume who they are, but I live my life like everyone else. I speak freely about my homosexuality.
Have you ever felt or experienced homophobia?
No, I’ve never encountered anything like this. To be honest, not from a staff member, not from a teammate, not from anyone. It’s all a matter of media coverage, influence, money. Sex, for sure. It’s definitely harder for a man to say he’s gay. Society has changed a lot, but it still needs to change. Among men, homosexuality remains a taboo subject because many still feel it’s their duty to be a man, to have that image of ancestor, whatever you want to associate with him. Quite simply, it is the society we grew up in that defines what a man should be like. A homosexual can have the same life as anyone else. I don’t understand why we don’t accept this.
In the women’s handball championship, only Angélique Spincer is in the coaching position. Do you find this sad?
Frankly, male or female, all I care about is having competent people. Then, frankly, it would be better if there was a little more equality. But in high-level sports, performance remains most important. Simply, the only thing I regret is that even today it’s probably a little harder for a woman to land a job like this because it’s still a male environment. Angelique leads by example, and before her there were a few more, but very few.
Will you force your children (a boy and a girl) to play handball?
Number. They came to my trainings often, less so at the matches, because the meetings are usually in the evening. But they spent a lot of time on the sidelines. Sports seem to interest them. But handball is nothing more than that. All I want is for them to do sports because it is necessary for the mental health of all people. But it doesn’t matter which discipline they choose afterwards. Due to my career, they will make their choices unconsciously, without directing me, of course, the issue of handball will come to the fore more.
Are they aware of what you’ve accomplished in your career?
No, they are still very young. First of all, they realize that I spend too much time away from them. He always asked me “Mom, when are you coming home?” they said. It’s very simple in the minds of children. There is nothing better to get your feet on the ground. But the day will come when I will show them some things. I wonder if their mothers are asked what they do, do they not answer that “he is playing ball” at that moment? Otherwise they will say I am retired and everyone will believe that his mother is 60 years old (laughs).