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Beijing 2022 Olympics: the sprint, figurehead of French cross-country skiing

“It’s obvious that we come to score! » On the slopes of Zhangjiakou, in the Beijing suburbs, at an altitude of 1,800 meters, the French men’s cross-country skiing team, through the voice of Cyril Burdet, one of its coaches, does not hide its Olympic ambitions . In a discipline where the French have never really played the leading roles at the international level, these remain nevertheless measured: around two medals, as in 2018, in Pyeongchang (South Korea), where ski tricolor background had gleaned bronze in the team sprint and men’s relay – his best total ever achieved in an Olympic edition.

Achieving the same result in China constitutes “a goal that is both achievable and ambitious”advances Cyril Burdet, who has supervised the sprint group with the Blues since the spring of 2014. It is also on the sprint that the hopes of the tricolor are concentrated. “Given the results of the winter, the greatest chance of a medal is in the sprint, either in teams or individually”notes the national technical director (DTN) of French skiing, Fabien Saguez.

During the presentation of the Olympic team, in November 2021, the latter had however above all focused on the chances of a medal on distance races (15 km, 50 km, 4 × 10 km relay), with Maurice Manificat, three Olympic Games and two bronze medals on the clock. But the latter’s truncated preparation (due to pubalgia in the summer of 2021) and convincing performances in the sprint have refocused hopes of a podium.

A good start to the season

“We come with three competitive athletes, including two who made podiums at the start of the season”, supports Cyril Burdet. 2 respectivelyand and 7and in the current Sprint World Cup standings, Richard Jouve and Lucas Chanavat (both 27) have achieved five podiums between them this season, including a double (2and and 3and) during the Lenzerheide stage in Switzerland, December 28, 2021. Present in Sochi (Russia) in 2014, the third sprinter, Renaud Jay, is making his big comeback to the Games.

“We don’t make gold a priority”, admits Fabien Saguez. It must be said that a founder somewhat crushes all the competition: “Johannes Klæbo is almost the greatest in cross-country skiing history. It’s hard to take it”explains the DTN, referring to the Norwegian, triple Olympic champion in 2018, current leader of the World Cup and big favorite in Beijing.

This does not prevent Richard Jouve from dreaming of adorning himself with the most beautiful metal at the end of the individual sprint event which is to take place on Tuesday 8 February. “I think there is a way to do it. My very good start to the season feeds this desire to put in a big performance,” details the one who plays in a club in Méribel, in Savoie.

He highlights the progress made in four years: “In Pyeongchang, I was not there to win a medal, and it was seen in the individual result [16e]. I was not at the level of the best in the world. It was a first experience that set the tone for the future and what needed to be put in place to progress,” he explains.

“At the peak of their careers and their abilities”

Notable fact for the Blues: unlike 2018, the individual sprint will be played in free style (or skating, because it is close to the ice skating step) in Beijing. However, this skiing technique is better suited to the French: of the four medals won in the history of the Olympics, all have been in free style (or mixed relay).

If Richard Jouve has made great progress in classic skiing (the alternate step, similar to walking), with a fourth place in Ruka (Finland), at the end of November 2021, the same is not true for Lucas Chanavat. “I have a big preference for freestyle. I achieved a lot of results in this format, so the ambitions are not the same as in the last Games [disputés en classique et terminés à la 33e place en individuel] », confirms the rider on two world podiums this season.

The athlete from Grand-Bornand (Haute-Savoie), who has been in the top 6 in the world sprint since 2018, feared the worst for his Olympic preparation because of a fatigue injury to the tibia, fortunately detected early. “I am aiming for a medal, and if I manage to put everything in place on D-Day, like in 2020 when I had chained three World Cup victories, I will not hesitate for the title. I don’t set myself limits.” launches the former junior world champion (in 2016).

Long affected by his last-minute withdrawal from the team sprint at the 2018 Olympics, in favor of Maurice Manificat (bronze medalist with Richard Jouve), Lucas Chanavat hopes to be at the start of the duo race in Beijing on Wednesday February 16, which will play in classical style.

Read also Olympic Games 2018: the winning strategy of French cross-country skiing, bronze in the team sprint

“He and Richard Jouve are fully mature and are reaching the pinnacle of their careers and their abilities”assures Cyril Burdet, who highlights their different styles: “Richard is very explosive and fast. Unlike a Lucas, more in amplitude and strength and which visually seems to release less speed but is incredible in movementsummarizes the technician. For similar speeds, these are two completely different ways of skiing. » Different profiles, but focused on the same Olympic quest.

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