Beijing Olympics: in the shoes of technicians, these “magicians” of skiing



No formality that holds, we will go to “you” from the first minutes. Vincent Meilleur is a mountain dweller. “A Beaufortain. » At the age of 48, the head of the French cross-country ski team’s technicians has also never ceased to be familiar with the snow: a biathlete in his youth, he then turned to ski mountaineering, which led him to a high profile career until 2008, when he quit to join a “acrobatic work” : work on the cliff, securing the slopes, triggering an avalanche… In short, he has “ballooned”.

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Returning to firm snow, Vincent Meilleur became a cross-country ski technician with the regional committee of Savoie, before joining the French team. He has been in charge since 2014.

shades of snow

In Zhangjiakou, where the Olympic cross-country skiing events are held, 180 km northwest of Beijing, he and his men, a team of seven in total, arrived before everyone else on January 27. It was necessary to install the huts which serve as workshops, and above all to recognize this atypical place. “Have the flair”, he summarizes. For lack of being able to go there upstream, pandemic obliges, it was necessary to understand this artificial snow, this sharp cold, these intermittent gusts of wind.

Esthetic work. If it is said that the Inuit have dozens of words to describe the snow, the technicians have nothing to be ashamed of: for them, there is cold snow, intermediate snow, wet snow, spring snow… And a rainbow of shades. “Even if, to the eye or with our devices, we can have the impression of knowing the snow, it is constantly changingexplains Vincent Meilleur. Everything is questioned from one site to another, and even from one day to the next, or from one moment to the next. » In Zhangjiakou, the snow is very dry and “abrasive” – scorched by the wind – especially in the morning. But the gusts are not part of the game every day.

Internal kitchen

Concretely, the work of Vincent Meilleur already consists in managing the equipment of the athletes. They choose their brand, he chooses the skis. Each skier has a total of around thirty pairs, for the different types of snow and the two cross-country techniques: skating and alternative. Technicians choose the right one at the right time. A work prepared from the summer.

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Then comes the famous waxing, the application of a coating, the wax, under the soles of the skis to promote sliding. Since this season, the regulations have changed, fluoride, a product generally used, containing perfluorides which are dangerous for health and the environment. Only waxes with a very low content of these PFOAs are now authorized. “We had to change all our ranges, but we find the same product quality”assures the chief of technicians, who compares himself to a ” Chef “ : with products already made, it “test and make a recipe” to find the perfect combination. “There is the grip wax, a resin that is applied in the middle of the ski, and the glide wax, at the ends of the board. »

“They are gambling their life”

But not everything is prepared in their hut: the technicians also have to deal with this dry snow. “Between two hours and thirty minutes before the race, we test the skis on the track, we have all been runners at some point. » If the conditions are changing, it is possible to take a pair of skis out of their ” food “ up to ten minutes before departure.

The responsibility is immense. “Without us, they cannot go for high performance, acknowledges Vincent Meilleur. That’s why they take us for magicians. They risk their life, they give us their skis. These are very strong relationships. »

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Zhangjiakou has already smiled on the French cross-country skiers, authors of a fine third place in the men’s relay, Sunday February 13th. That weekend, it was necessary to adapt to the first snowfall of the fortnight, which the meteorologist of the French clan had seen coming. “We still had a small problem with the equipment on the downhill sections, which slowed down the skis a bit”, notes Vincent Meilleur, who relativizes: ” VSWhat makes the biggest difference is still the athlete :tYou may have the best skis, but if you don’t have racehorses, it doesn’t work! »

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