They will be 88 in Beijing. They were 108 in South Korea four years ago, 114 in Russia in 2014. The French delegation is tighter but it does not revise its Olympic ambitions downwards.
“The objective is to do as well as in PyeongChang, i.e. 15 medals”, announces the head of mission, Nathalie Péchalat. But before even talking about figures, the president of the Ice Sports Federation would like to mention a “top priority” : “that all the selected athletes can participate in the Games”. Understand: pass between the drops of the Covid, a real sword of Damocles this year. Nathalie Péchalat herself tested positive a few days after this interview.
Several leaders in biathlon
In 2018, Asia smiled on the Habs. They had achieved their best result: a 9and place on the table of nations, with five golden medals. This year again, it is on the biathlon side that we expect a series of podiums. The picture seems idyllic: Quentin Fillon Maillet is at the top of the general classification of the World Cup, followed by another Frenchman, Émilien Jacquelin. Simon Desthieux (9and) also managed to climb on the podium in individual. In women, Justine Braisaz-Bouchet is 7andclosely followed by Anaïs Chevalier-Bouchet (9and) and Anaïs Bescond (10and).
→ ANALYSIS. Biathlon: the French team in working order 50 days before the Olympics
But after the starts with a bang, failures are never far away. Fillon Maillet and Jacquelin went through a period of doubt in January. Mental wear for one, general fatigue for the other. A spleen that other favorites have encountered in alpine skiing. Alexis Pinturault, great chance of a medal in giant and combined in particular, is having a bad time this season – a “ hell “, in his words. The winner of the big crystal globe in 2021 has however focused his preparation on Beijing to reach gold, the only metal he lacks. And that French alpine skiing has been waiting for since 2006.
In slalom, Clément Noël, 4and in 2018, now claims the podium. But after two victories at the start of the season, he suffered a series of failures. Tessa Worley, the standard bearer, has proven her good form in giant slalom, with three podiums in one month.
Freestyle skiing at the party
Artificial snow, powerful wind… In addition to the impact of the Covid on the preparation of athletes, the conditions of the Chinese sites could reshuffle the cards. “The technical level, we have it, there is no problem. But it is true that there are more uncertainties than usual. With the weather conditions, we could have surprises.supports Fabien Saguez, the director of French skiing.
Can the Olympics and politics go hand in hand?
This 2022 edition also marks the end of a reign, that of biathlete Martin Fourcade, four individual gold medals in the last two Olympic Games, who retired in 2020. “He was flying over his discipline. Its participation in the Games gave us guarantees, continues Fabien Saguez. Today, we have athletes who have a lot of qualities, but who are not as accomplished as his. »
There is still a safe bet: Perrine Laffont, gold medalist in mogul skiing in 2018. The 23-year-old Ariégeoise warns: she is not yet “at the end of (his) abilities”. She could start the counter of the Blues, her final being scheduled for Sunday.
→ MAINTENANCE. Perrine Laffont: “I haven’t reached the end of my abilities yet”
In freestyle skiing, you also have to count on Tess Ledeux (slopestyle, big air) and her cousin Kevin Rolland (half-pipe), as well as Terence Tchiknavorian and Bastien Midol (skicross). On the ice, the workforce is limited: all hopes rest on the duo Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, favorite in pair ice dancing.
It’s up to the Tricolores to create enthusiasm despite the absence of their public and the time difference. “Every four years, the stakes are the same, emphasizes the head of delegation. It takes performance to shine the light on snow and ice athletes. »