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the French Nordic combined is waiting to take off again

“Good evening and long live the customs officers! » On February 12, 1992, Fabrice Guy and Sylvain Guillaume seized gold and silver on the Courchevel site during the Olympic Games in Albertville (Savoie). At the opening of FR3’s “19-20”, Paul Amar thanks these two Jura customs officers. France discovers the Nordic combined, this discipline combining jumping and cross-country skiing, the usual preserve of Norwegians and Finns, as its name suggests.

Thirty years later, Fabrice Guy is still patrolling for customs, but he has taken leave to comment on the three combined events of the Beijing Games on France Télévisions. The first takes place on Wednesday February 9 with the small hill jump – while waiting for the “big one” – and the team jump on February 15 and 17.

The consultant is realistic about the chances of podiums for his heirs, the best of whom, Laurent Muhlethaler, points to the 23e place at the World Cup. “I cannot sell medals to viewers, he announces. The medals, it may be in four years. We have a young team that is there to discover and understand an event like the Games. If I won in 1992, it’s also because I had done Calgary in 1988.”

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In Albertville, another discipline of “customs officers” emerged from its white desert. On February 14, 1992, the women’s relay gave tricolor biathlon its first Olympic title. The beginning of a love story that lasts forever with regular medal harvests and exceptional media exposure. The starting point was however the same, with limited resources and a small pool of athletes within a radius of a few kilometers in the Jura.

A matter of cycles and luck

At the time, victory was born from a consummate art of resourcefulness between “commando operation” (according to Fabrice Guy) and hand-stitched craftsmanship. “When Jacques Gaillard set up our training group in 1987, there had been no French team for seven years. For my part, I train with the jumperssays the Olympic champion. Jacques started from scratch to model us as he saw fit, without worrying about other countries. »

In biathlon, Yvon Mougel and David Moretti proceed with the same ethic of a job well done and three pieces of string. But, when the Nordic cousin has since moved from the workshop to high-precision industry, the handset “always tinker”, according to his national coach, Jérôme Laheurte. However, he had his Martin Fourcade with Jason Lamy-Chpuis, 2010 Olympic champion and four-time World Cup winner.

“When a talented boy like Mattéo Baud emerges, you have to be very attentive”, warns coach Jérôme Laheurte

“There is a part of chance to come across a phenomenon like Jason”, observes his former teammate Sébastien Lacroix. If we follow the one who is now a consultant for Eurosport, the Nordic combined is like economic cycles, as Nikolai Kondratiev says. “We have always walked by generation. After that of Fabrice Guy, there was a gap before the arrival of Jason. Behind him, there were several of us performing well. Since 2017, we are again in a trough. »

Frenchman Mattéo Baud, Nordic combined specialist, during the Youth Olympic Games, January 18, 2020 in Les Tuffes (Jura).

Until the next lift? A name returns to carry the hopes of the combined, that of Mattéo Baud. Vice-world junior champion in 2021, the native of Pontarlier (Doubs) will discover the Olympics without the pressure of the result, twenty years after his father Frédéric (who finished sixth with the relay in Salt Lake City in 2002). “In France, we have a precious stone to be cut every ten or fifteen years. And this stone is Matteo”advances Fabrice Guy, former training comrade of the father.

” Precious ” too rare too. “When a talented boy like Matteo emerges, you have to be very attentivewarns Jérôme Laheurte. The handset has always worked like this. We have a limited reservoir, so we are always on a tight flow. » While biathlon has managed to densify its base of practitioners in recent years, that of the combined is barely wider than the top of its pyramid. “At the start of a French championship, there must be around forty participants, sighs Fabrice Guy. And again, we’re going to look for the little ones (14-15 years old) and the old ones who continue just for fun. We are a small discipline in numbers. »

“It’s easier to learn about biathlon”

Sébastien Lacroix even sees this gauge falling. “Unfortunately, we even have fewer people than when I was a junior, regrets the 2013 double world champion in the relay. Kid, I also remember that there were many more children at the top of the springboard. » Despite his love for jumping, Fabrice Guy believes he sees it as a limiting factor in the practice of combined. “It’s easier to learn about biathlon, to find a shooting range next to a track. While you don’t say to yourself one morning: “What if I go ski jumping?”»

If victory is decided in cross-country skiing in a Nordic combined race, everything begins on the springboard, small or large. “You have to start jumping as soon as possiblesays Jérôme Laheurte. After 10 years, it’s complicated to put a cross-country skier in jumping. The younger you start, the more you overcome the barrier of fear. There is also the feeling, the motor skills that we acquire before this age. The goal is therefore for all jumpers to get to the bottom fast enough. »

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Still have to find some and frame them. “In Premanon [Jura]our training center, we redid the large hill but not the small one, which was a great tool for young people to discover jumping », regrets Jérôme Laheurte. Jason Lamy-Chpuis started on this now abandoned tool. The national coach also points to the lack of “qualified persons” to support young people and describes coaches who “have to manage everything”, including grooming the springboards themselves.

Sébastien Lacroix observes the success of biathlon without jealousy but with admiration. “When we look at the results among the juniors in recent years, there is no generational gap among them. » The French handset does not dream of competing over time with the Norwegian and German ogres. “But we have competent coaches and the means to bring athletes to a high level”, defends Lacroix. In 2020, the junior relay (with Mattéo Baud, already) was vice-world champion. With the French Nordic combined, a recession sometimes heralds astonishing recoveries. You just have to be a little patient.

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