Nick Butler ©ITG

To me, the July 2005 vote to decide the host of the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics conjures memories of a school trip to the Tower of London, fittingly enough, with a friend suddenly interrupting a lecture about the illustrious history of the city to bring tidings of a latest triumph.

For my colleagues who were actually present in Singapore, however, the story they have told again and again concerns a cocktail reception on the rooftop bar of the Esplanade-Theatres the night before the vote. On the one hand you had British Prime Minister Tony Blair working the room and pressing the flesh, singling out voting International Olympic Committee (IOC) members to woo alongside his chief lieutenants Sebastian Coe and Craig Reedie.

On the other you had French counterpart Jacques Chirac standing nonchalantly and appearing less enthusiastic in greeting the creme of the sports world as members were brought over to him. He then left notably earlier than Blair and by this point had already upset several members with ill-judged quips such as, “After Finland, Britain is the country with the worst food”.

And predictably enough, at the following day’s Session, the French favourites were narrowly overhauled in a British wave. “Les Rost Boeuf” defeating their Gallic foes once and for all.

An ill-fated Annecy bid for the 2018 Winter Olympics aside, it has taken a long time for France to recover enough to consider another attempt.

Taking place on the centenary of the last time the iconic capital hosted the Games, the 2024 edition seems tailor made for a Parisian bid, but even so they appeared far from sure and it was only after an internal three-year process that the green light was given.

If they are to succeed in a five-horse race in which the young, hip and vibrant city of Los Angeles is the principle opponent - alongside three other European cities in Budapest, Hamburg and Rome - it is imperative these old myths about French arrogance and aloofness are kicked into touch.

While World Rugby President Bernard Lapasset has been appointed for his experience and administrative skills rather than his persona, his fellow bid leader Tony Estanguet is the embryonic figurehead of a new France.

Tony Estanguet (left) posing with World Rugby chief and Paris 2024 co-bid leader Bernard Lapasset ©Getty Images
Tony Estanguet (left) posing with World Rugby chief and Paris 2024 co-bid leader Bernard Lapasset ©Getty Images

A man who won his first C1-class Olympic gold aged 22 in Sydney in 2000, the slalom canoeist bowed out 12 years later after becoming the first Frenchman to claim three Olympic golds in the same event.

Since then he has shifted into the administrative ranks, being elected a member of the IOC Athletes’ Commission during the London Games. He has since served on three IOC Commissions as well as the World Anti-Doping Agency Foundation Board and as French Chef de Mission at the Nanjing 2014 Summer Youth Olympics, where he also hosted a reception attended by most of his IOC colleagues.

It is clear when talking to him during last week’s Association of National Olympic Committees General Assembly in Washington D.C. that changing perceptions of Paris and the French is crucial, perhaps unsurprisingly because the consultant sitting alongside him is Mike Lee, formerly communications director of the London 2012 Bid Committee.

"We are determined to continue good cooperation with public and political authorities,” he told insidethegames, when asked about the legacy of Chirac's perceived faux pas. “This is a lesson we learnt after 2005.

"Maybe we needed some years to admit it, but I think we needed to be more open to the international community.

“The bid was a little too French.

“Since then the French National Olympic and Sports Committee (CNOSF) has launched a new dynamic with the National Federations to rethink their sports and what events we could run before bidding again."

Several elements must be prioritised, he believes.

Firstly, being more open to the international community and more active within sporting bodies. Estanguet is one of two French IOC members along with Montreal 1976 high hurdles champion, Guy Drut. Lapasset is another experienced figure along with the likes of Albertville 1992 Organising Committee co-chair Jean-Claude Killy and CNOSF President Denis Maseglia. But another new face is another former Olympic champion in International Rowing Federation President Jean-Christophe Rolland and at least three compatriots could join him as International Federation Presidents in the next 12 months.

Sydney 2000 coxless pairs champion turned International Rowing Federation chief Jean-Christophe Rolland (left) is another important figure for Paris 2024 ©Getty Images
Sydney 2000 coxless pairs champion turned International Rowing Federation chief Jean-Christophe Rolland (left) is another important figure for Paris 2024 ©Getty Images

Georges Guelzec could soon lead the International Gymnastics Federation and Didier Gailhaguet is vying to head the International Skating Union, while it is unlikely but just about conceivable that Michel Platini could still become the head honcho at FIFA.

This will not necessarily make a difference, but having plenty of officials in high level positions shows the country means business. It was a key reason why Beijing overcame Almaty in the race for the 2022 Winter Games, and it will complement support from high-level political figures.

Holding more events in Paris is another ambition. Next year will see the Euro 2016 football tournament, while the 2017 World Wrestling Championships will take place in Paris as will the following year’s Ryder Cup Golf event. Outside the capital, this year’s World Rowing Championships took place in Aiguebelette, while the 2017 World Canoe Slalom Championships will be held in Pau. There are other events as well, and developing and improving venues is a natural offset of this hosting drive.

“We want to show how France is a country of sport,” said Estanguet, who is playing a key role in organising the canoe slalom event taking place in his home-town.

“It’s a concept of being part of the international community of sport. It is about trying to be more active in participating in the sports movement. This is the first main issue we wanted before bidding again."

He adds: “The second main criticism before was the leadership of the bid. This time, we will work on the team. In the past, it was a little bit of divided. A separation between sport and politics, with lots of big personalities. We’ve tried to really have a team spirit. We share a concept and want to work all together.

“It is an exciting challenge trying to combine all these authorities and to work together, from the President of France down, and involving the whole country as well.

“It is about returning to the kind of culture we had for the [FIFA] World Cup of 1998 and Albertville 1992 [Winter Olympics]."

Reviving the French organisational spiriti seen at the France 1998 FIFA World Cup is seen as key ©Getty Images
Reviving the French organisational spirit seen at the France 1998 FIFA World Cup is seen as key ©Getty Images

Unsurprisingly, prioritising an athlete-centered Games is something trumpeted by Estanguet over and over again. This is one of the most overly used clichés in sport politics, trailing only Agenda 2020 and “zero tolerance on doping”, and it is something certainly not always borne out by reality.

Indeed, Los Angeles has already made the same pitch by appointing swimming legend Janet Evans as their vice-president while Estanguet's Athletes' Commission head Claudia Bokel is playing a leading role in Hamburg's bid.

But you feel there is more than an element of sincerity. Estanguet, Drut and Rolland are three former athletes closely involved in the bid leadership. Other French sporting legends including San Antonio Spurs point guard Tony Parker and eight-time judo world champion Teddy Riner have also participated in an ambassadorial capacity.

Athletes have been closely involved in every step of the process, from the choice of Marseille as the sailing venue to the location for the Athletes’ Village expected to be unveiled next week. "We are not just saying this," he insists. "But are taking on board their views about compactness and keeping the Village close to the venues."

And this is Estanguet’s forte. Lapasset’s job is to put ideas on the table, he explains, and then he shapes them with an athletes’ focus.

The 37-year-old has competition and the Olympics in his blood. His father Henri was himself a canoeist who won medals at the Wildwater Canoe World Championships in the 1970s while his elder brother Patrice won a bronze medal at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.

He watched his first Games aged 10 in Seoul and was hooked immediately. Nine years later he won a silver medal at the 1997 World Championships in Três Coroas, Brazil and three years after that he went one better in Sydney, triumphing in controversial fashion after Slovakian rival Michel Martikan was retrospectively awarded a two-second penalty which cost him the top spot.

He successfully defended his title in Athens before winning the first of three individual world titles in Prague in 2006. By the time he carried the French flag at the Opening Ceremony in Beijing, he was already thinking about his future career, completing his Masters in Sports Marketing at the ESSEC Business School in Paris in 2007 and beginning to turn his attention to the coaching and business side.

After missing out on a place in the final and a medal in Beijing, he held meetings with the IOC and considered hanging up his paddle then.

Tony Estanguet celebrating his third Olympic triumph at London 2012 ©Getty Images
Tony Estanguet celebrating his third Olympic triumph at London 2012 ©Getty Images

But he ultimately pushed on for four more years and bowed out of the sport in golden fashion with a third triumph at London's Lee Valley Whitewater Centre. Yet, his career and what he was going to do afterwards was always on his mind.

“In my sport, you don’t have a choice,” he told insidethegames.

“You don’t earn money during your career so you have to be careful and anticipate your future. I kept my motivation during my career due to external experiences through education.

“I don’t really believe in the success of sportsmen when they focus only on their training.

“To achieve good performances you have to be good technically but you also have to be well-rounded. It wasn’t easy to combine different projects, but in canoeing it was easier as we only had one big event per year. I could afford a few weeks for education and professional business. Then I came back to sport really passionate and motivated.”

This is a key point, with combining careers with life as an elite athlete a topical issue these days, and one trumpeted by fellow Athletes’ Commission members Moon Dae-sung and Adam Pengilly in the Seoul-based iSR Academy.

Estanguet admit that life as an IOC member is busier than he expected but believes he is now comfortable in the world of hotel lobbies and cocktail receptions, adding “it’s amazing how fast I’ve been accepted”.

He comes across as a natural politician, polite and respectful but keen to trumpet the party lines of Agenda 2020 and other Olympic priorities. But innovation is also in his heart, best shown by his ideas within his own sport, where he is now a vice-president of the International Canoe Federation.

One new plan involves temporary venues, allowing a slalom course to be at the centre of the Games but theoretically enabling a host city to move it afterwards to somewhere where it would be more use in a legacy sense. This has not yet been attempted, but he believes the 2019 European Games could be one potential pilot-project, as well as the following year's Games in Tokyo and then, maybe, Paris 2024.

Another idea is a new way to film canoeing, including the pioneering of cameras inside the helmet worn by the athletes to get spectators as close to the action as possible. Making the Olympic competition unique and different is key, he believes, as this is the sport’s main opportunity for maximum exposure.

I ask him what his long-term plans are. He answers that his Olympic involvement will only be in the short-term because his IOC Athletes' Commission membership expires in 2020 (although it remains possible he could attempt to chair the body when Claudia Bokel steps down next year).

But by 2020 he could also be a bid leader for Paris 2024, his advisor Mike Lee chips in, and you feel that keeping him at the helm will be crucial if Paris is to negate the many gates and rapids which lie ahead.

Avoiding mistakes made by Jacques Chirac and others during the Paris 2012 bid in 2005 is seen as key this time around ©Getty Images
Avoiding mistakes made by Jacques Chirac and others during the Paris 2012 bid in 2005 is seen as key this time around ©Getty Images

It was notable that not once did Estanguet mention the fact that the 2024 Games would mark 100 years since 1924, and it appears the bid team have already learnt the danger of appearing arrogant and claiming they are destined to host the Games. The IOC, remember, opted for Atlanta over Athens when choosing the 1996 host on the 100-year anniversary of the first Modern Games.

But remembering history is important and, as our allotted interview time runs out following more discussion on political support, I ask him if the French Presidential Election scheduled for April and May in 2017 is a concern. Could campaigning overshadow the bid, I ask, and what happens if the new President is less supportive?

"The President will be in support but not in a leadership position," he answers, as softly spoken and confident as ever. They will be present in Lima for the decisive vote [in September 2017], he promises, because it is in the Presidential Diary.

"Whatever the result, it will not affect the bid," he adds. "Whoever comes in, will be supportive, be it [François] Hollande or [Nicolas] Sarkozy or someone else. They will not impact the bid because they will not be in a position to make decisions.

"It is not easy when you have elections, but sport is still the best way to unite people, like what has happened in recent weeks with the French rugby team, bringing the country together despite their bad result on the pitch."

Time will tell whether this will prove true, or whether old faults will re-emerge as they did in France's 62-13 quarter-final humbling at the hands of eventual winners, New Zealand.

But in Estanguet they have an ambassador who appears a suave and sophisticated ambassador of every quality they want to highlight.