The French team’s medal basket has already tinkled three times in two days, since the start of the Paralympic Games in Beijing on Saturday March 5. There was Arthur Bauchet’s gold in standing downhill, Marie Bochet’s silver in standing Super-G, and Hyacinthe Deleplace’s bronze in downhill, visually impaired category. But we must not forget a fourth, hanging around the neck of one of the 18 members of the French delegation, since Valentin Giraud-Moine, Hyacinthe Deleplace’s guide, was also rewarded.
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As tradition dictates, his medal is personal to him, but it is not listed on the official table by nation. “It’s normal, it’s the athlete’s time that counts on the line, but his performance could not exist without the skill of the guide who precedes him”, explains Christian Fémy, director of the French Paralympic team, one of whose main concerns is to find recently retired champions, capable of training an athlete in their wake.
A link on and off the track
Recruited last season, Valentin Giraud-Moine was still a valid member of the France team not long ago. This talented downhiller, second in the formidable Kitzbühel (Austria) downhill in 2017, saw his progress halted by a serious fall, which kept him away from the podiums. “I had a very good guide for slalom and giant slalom, but it’s true that Valentin gives me a lot of speed”, explains Hyacinthe Deleplace. The visually impaired skier will rely on his two guides for the combined event on Tuesday March 8: Valentin Giraud-Moine will ensure the first round of the super-G, Maxime Jourdan will succeed him for the slalom.
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If the arrival of Valentin Giraud-Moine is recent, Maxime Jourdan has been alongside Hyacinthe since his debut five years ago. “We met at the Grenoble university club, he was looking for someone to guide him and I said to myself: ‘Why not?’ », says this 26-year-old young man, who has a very good instructor level. “Hyacinthe started from very far away, he had skied as a child but started competing late. At 25, he had to learn everything,” continues the guide, who had to adapt his level to the rhythm of his follower’s progress.
Connected by microphones, these two do not leave each other’s ears on the slope. Hyacinthe’s handicap only allows him to distinguish a shadow in front of him. The guide must take care to avoid deviations likely to distract his athlete. “I’m skiing at 70% of my capacity, I could turn around, but I avoid it because it changes the shape of my silhouette. I guide him by voice, detailing the shape and gap of the doors and he answers me to say when he has passed, explains Maxime Jourdan. Over time, it has become much more than a guide: “We are friends, we live together more than a hundred days a year between competitions and training courses, but we make sure that we each live our lives on our side outside of skiing. »
“A great adventure”
In Nordic skiing, the technical team also made two guides, Brice Otonello and Alexandre Pouyé, available to cross-country skier and biathlete Anthony Chalençon, who is totally blind. “It is an essential precaution, because in the event of injury to a guide, the athlete cannot run”, explains Alexandre Pouyé, former founder in the French team, who sees in this collaboration a means of prolonging the high level. “It’s a more collective adventure than valid, where we are all in competition with each other. With Brice and Anthony, we live a beautiful story of friendship, we share everything, we share the tasks, the waxing, the steps, the laundry “, continues the 28-year-old athlete.
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On the track as on the shooting range in biathlon (read below)the role of guides is crucial for a blind athlete, who cannot refer to any visual reference. “Thanks to the loudspeaker that we attached to the belt, we tell him the steps, the rhythm, the relief, the position of the competitors, he does not speak or speaks little, he is at full speed all the time and must concentrate on his effort, it’s up to me to know where he is”,details the guide, who must turn around every two seconds to monitor progress. And possibly brake it downhill when, connected by a stick, the two skiers spin at more than 50 km/h. “It’s really a great adventure, I recommend it to everyone”, enthuses Alexandre Pouyé, who begins to dream “I might end the week with what I never managed to get valid: an Olympic medal. »
Rights and duties of guides
In alpine skiing, any error by the guide, for example an early start, stepping over or missing a door, or a fall, is eliminatory for the athlete following him. In cross-country skiing and biathlon, towing is obviously banned. Only the link by stick is authorized in the descents to slow down the follower who is sucked by his guide. In biathlon, the guide accompanies his athlete to the shooting range and accompanies his movement when he lies down to shoot, but he must let go before the latter touches the ground. Since the Paralympic Summer Games in London in 2012, the guide is considered an athlete in its own right and also receives a medal, even if the latter is not counted in the general table.