Preparation as a foretaste of the Winter Games? Covid obliges, they are only a handful of French athletes to have been authorized, last October, to train on the ice track of Yanqing, 90 km from Beijing, where the bobsleigh events, of toboggan and skeleton. The prior approval of this ice corridor with 16 bends requires the arrival of speed champions for reconnaissance training. Of which act. But the Blues concerned have understood that the Olympic celebration from February 4 would be very unique in the Middle Kingdom.
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“The administrative constraints before the start were hellish, and on site, the atmosphere for the less anxiety, says Romain Heinrich, the French bobsleigh pilot. The service personnel wore three masks on top of each other, we underwent daily tests, and it was impossible to do anything other than the ride from the track to the hotel. “
The only Frenchwoman hoping to qualify in skeleton, this spectacular specialty where you slide head first, Agathe Bessard evokes a “Lunar side” : “In the corridors of the hotel, people dressed as cosmonauts (…) ceaselessly sprayed products, only replaced sometimes by robots which disinfect the smallest surface. “
In the shadow of Paris 2024
The Games will therefore be under a strict, very strict bubble. What to disturb the champions. “In the closed-door competitions last year, I felt the lack of that little flame necessary for performance, explains Romain Heinrich. So I worked with a mental trainer this summer to get these resources even without spectators. “
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Bronze medalist in the team sprint in 2018 at PyeongChang, founder Richard Jouve anticipates “Soulless Games” and more widely regret “Games which for two Olympiads have been held in Asia, with an audience that is much less familiar with these winter disciplines. And then for Europeans, jet lag leads to many hardships at night. All of this shouldn’t leave great memories. The period is not very easy to live with as athletes ”.
Lady! A big blow of blues for the Beijing Blues? Another factor is added: Paris 2024. “It is true that Beijing 2022 is going a bit like ace and that we have had more expected deadlines, judge Matteo Baud, young (19 years old) hope of the tricolor Nordic combined (cross-country skiing and ski jumping). I discuss it with my older team mates, and they tell me that they sense a lesser infatuation. Me, I hope all the same to take full eyes. “
Romain Heinrich, who starts the World Cup circuit in Austria this week, confirms: “Bobsleigh is really a discipline in the shadows of winter sports which are themselves in the shadow of Paris 2024, he insists. But what do you want, we can say that we are used to organizing ourselves without any particular expectations. “
Playing the originality card
Gwendoline Daudet, one of the four speed skaters of the French short-track relay, the vice-world champion team in March 2021, prefers to take things with philosophy: “We are rarely on the front of the stage, but we manage to cope with it. In particular to attract economic partners. For example, we are trying to move away, to play the card of originality in relation to 2024 by presenting a spectacular discipline, a team with strong personalities, which deserves to be known. Our silver medal at the Worlds for the coup helps a little. “
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This competition from Paris 2024, Richard Jouve also takes it into account in his quest for results in Beijing: “As always, being successful at the Games is an imperative for our small disciplines which are only in the spotlight every four years. But there, the stakes will be even higher, because behind, we risk to have hardly any more visibility with the rise in power of Paris 2024. “
Richard Jouve knows very well that you have to hit hard, while his bronze medal in PyeongChang did not really upset his practice. “If you really want big spinoffs, you need gold, and in an individual event”, he observes. It is the eternal challenge of these champions. “The Games are still an extraordinary experience, positive Gwendoline Daudet. We had good echoes from Tokyo, despite the Covid. Between Blues, it was still very warm, it seems. So we hope for the same. “
Hard blow for the Blues of the alpine
This is the bad news announced Tuesday, November 16 by the French Ski Federation (FFS). The speed specialist Adrien Théaux must give up his fourth Olympic Games, the season ended before even starting it because of a fall in training, Monday 15, at Copper Mountain (United States). “He suffers from a fracture of the left elbow, the right tibia and the right ankle”, specifies the press release of the FFS. Operated on site, the skier must be repatriated to France. It is a blow for the 37-year-old champion who was already returning from a serious injury in January 2020, and for the entire speed group of the France team, ” shocked “.