Alain Bernard first came to prominence at the 2008 European Championships in Eindhoven. Not only did the Frenchman win three gold medals (50 and 100 metres, 4x100 relay - all freestyle), he also bettered the world record in both individual events, even twice for the blue ribbon event, the 100 metres. This performance made him a favorite for the Olympic gold in the freestyle sprint events. At first, Bernard disappointed, anchoring the French team in the 4x100 free relay final but losing the lead to the United States’ Jason Lezak in the final centimetres. Moreover, Eamon Sullivan (47.21) had taken Bernard’s world record in the opening leg of that race. Bernard grabbed it back (47.20) in the semi-finals of the individual 100 free, only to lose it again to Sullivan (47.05) in the second semi-final. The final was a close showdown between the Australian and the Frenchman, with Bernard winning. Adding a bronze medal in the 50 freestyle, Bernard left Beijing with a full set of Olympic medals.
Bernard repeated as European Champion in the 100 freestyle in 2010. He finished his career with 7 medals and 4 gold medals at the European Championships. At the 2012 Olympics, he helped France win the 4x100 free relay gold medal that had eluded them in Beijing. He also added a bronze medal in the 50 free at the 2011 World Championships, bringing his medal total at that meet to five, with two silvers and three bronze medals. Bernard set three world records in the 100 freestyle, twice at the 2008 Europeans and in winning the 2008 Olympic gold medal. He also set one world record in the 50 freestyle, that in the 2008 European Championships semi-final.
After his retirement from competition, Bernard was made an Officer of the French National Order of Merit and later became an Ambassador for UNICEF in Africa. He also served as an ambassador and technical advisor for the French AquaSphere swim equipment brand. Bernard was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 2017.