It might still seem a long way ahead for us, but for others the 2010 Vancouver Olympic games are now becoming reality. Serious specific training has begun for all the nations out there, right from the end of this season until the last days of January 2010. A long preparation for the likes of White, Pearce, Podlatchikov and a host more. We caught the French team on their second week of training as they came down our way to Hossegor.
I arrive at the Quiksilver house where everybody is staying for a week. Mathieu Crepel is stretching after a long bike run, Allouan Ricciardi is on the massage table with the physio, and the rest of the crew is getting ready for dinner at the infamous Hossegor spot: the Rockfood. There, I sit down with the two coaches, Stéphane Azzola and Valérie Bourdier, for a little tete-a-tete on what Olympic preparation is all about.
OB: So, not much rest time for those riders after the season, everybody seems to be in the start gate already…
Stéphane: That’s it; the Olympic games have started for us. We are eight months from the event, but for us it’s reality now. We started to gather last week in Corsica, with all the riders. The French Olympic committee organised it for us and they put us into a good spirit right away. Mental preparation more than anything else, I would say.
Valérie: We were there when we were told the news about Karine Ruby. Everybody was very sad, even though most of those riders didn’t know her personally. It was a huge shock for everyone.
OB: She was really appreciated indeed. And she will be missed. I bet it was even harder to be in the middle of those who are going for the next Olympics…
Valérie: It was hard for everyone, and we’re especially thinking about her friends, her boyfriend, her brother and the rest of her family.
OB: So you didn’t take a break after Corsica and came directly here to Hossegor?
Stéphane: Yes, directly here. After the brainstorming and a lot of mental preparation last week, we’re now on a more physical training session here. We were invited by Bernard Crepel and the whole Quiksilver team to their house. The welcome was awesome, and everybody is stoked to be here. Shame about the poor waves at the minute, it could have added a little fun to the trip, but we have a tight schedule and a lot of things to achieve with our physical training for this week. We started on a pretty big aerobic program, to increase oxygenation of the muscle tissues. It’s important to have this base done first, because it will make it easier for [the riders] to cope with all the high altitude runs they’re going to do over and over again on the glaciers during the summer. So we run a lot, bike a lot, also play some team sports. And when we’ll have time (and if there’s better waves coming) we’ll do some surfing as well.
OB: Ok, and what is next in the preparation?
Stéphane: Next week is a week off for everyone, before heading to Les Deux Alpes. Valerie negotiated a very special treatment, just for us, with the resort. We want to give the riders the opportunity to try and perform a lot of new moves, and for this purpose we’re going to have a perfect quarterpipe with an airbag.
Valérie: The resort really makes an effort for us, and we’re going to be in the best conditions to work well. The guys are going to stay about a week; the girls will stay a little longer. Then everybody will move to Mt Hood.
OB: Cool, how long are you going to stay there?
Stéphane: About a month, from mid-June to mid-July. It will be the time to test the runs in real conditions. Since it’s not a glacier, the snow should be pretty soft and it will be perfect to improve and prefect the runs without taking too many risks.
OB: You were talking earlier about team sports. How are you both going to work to instill a team spirit in a sport where it’s all about individuality?
Stéphane: Well, it’s not easy but that’s my goal. When I took charge of the French Olympic team last year, I was lucky enough to have a Sport Director at the Federation listen to me when I said I wanted Valérie to be part of the adventure as well. I think that’s how you build a strong team: we both have complementary qualities to train them in the best way we can, and the objective is to make all the riders and staff [feel] that we are a team, and without the team, we’re not going anywhere. It might be an individual sport, but we think we’re stronger as a team, and that’s our work motor.
Valérie: And that’s also we we’re trying to organise small football tournaments, some rugby, tennis-football and so on. Living together is important to tighten the link between all the riders, even if they already know each other pretty well. But playing these kind of sports is also very good. I think the real team is born, they are all well together, and they all push each other to do better.
OB: Can you introduce all the riders for our readers?
Stéphane: Ok, we’ll start with the girls: Mirabelle Thovex, very young rider with a huge potential. She can do well in Vancouver for sure, but I would bet some money she will get a medal in Sochi, for the 2014 Olympics! There’s also Sophie Rodriguez, who’s been on the FIS tour for a bit now, and won a lot of trophies already. And then Anne-Sophie Pellissier, who finished 6th in the FIS pipe World Cup this year, and who’s very talented as well. We also count on Caroline Béliard of course, who’s been training hard all season and improved her pipe riding quite tremendously actually. On the men’s side, we’ve got Mathieu Crepel and Gary Zebrowski – both pipe killers. With their experience at the 2006 Torino Olympics, they are the leaders in the team. And with them, we’ve got a young bunch of talents: Allouan Ricciardi, Johann Baisamy, Arthur Longo and Olivier Gittler.
OB: How did those riders get their final ticket to the Olympic games?
Stéphane: The number of tickets that each nation gets depends on their results in World Cups. For the pipe, it looks like we’ll have a quota of 4 men and 3 girls. But we’ll have to wait until the 30th January 2010 to have the confirmation of who can go and who can’t.
OB: So today nobody is sure to go?
Stéphane: Nobody can say that, no. But today, we had two guys who are pretty much confident, with their technical skills and latest results: Mathieu and Gary. Then the four other riders will have to do their best to get the final 2 spots. And that will be decided definitely on the 30th of January.
Valérie: For the girls, it’s even tighter, because we’ve got only 3 spots and all the girls are really close to each other in terms of level.
OB: Last question, and it’s a goodie: How do you create the perfect run?
Stéphane: Aha, well that’s a hell of a question indeed! Snowboarding is all about creativity. Valérie and myself have a strong enough snowboard culture to realise that, and to understand that the winner might need more than perfection to actually get the gold. What I mean by this is you can perform perfect runs after perfect runs in training, if you don’t have the extra little sparkle on the D-day, you might just end up second or third, or worse. We have our ideas to create the perfect run, and it can well be achieved with the talented people we have here. But we won’t give you more details on those runs, I’m afraid!
OB: Damn it! Well thanks for your time, and good luck!