Departure from Paris on 7 March: An 11-hour flight to Seoul followed by a three-hour train ride from the capital. In PyeongChang, it’s clear we’ve arrived: even the airport is decorated in the Paralympic colours! We head directly to our lodgings: the athletes, staff and organisers are eager for the games to begin.
The evening of our arrival, we meet the family of Arthur Bauchet, with whom we share the same Korean chalet. For many of us, it is our first time at the Games. You can feel the excitement for them to begin!
9 March: the French Paralympic and Sports Committee press conference signals the start of the Games. The goal is clear: to make the TOP 5! The flag-bearer Marie Bochet, sponsored by Societe Generale, is present and very cautious: no kisses on the cheek, she’s protecting herself from germs. She also has ambitious goals, for her individual performance as well as the team’s.
The opening ceremony is held in the evening; the freezing temperature doesn’t dampen the spirits of Marie’s twenty-some supporters. When she makes her entrance in the stadium, leading the French delegation and waving the flag in the air, the crowd goes wild. It’s also a particularly moving moment for her family. Everyone goes to bed early tonight, since the games begin tomorrow with the main event: Downhill.
The nine days of competition to follow will approach perfection for the French team and its supporters.
On the first day, the tone is already set: Three medals, including two golds for Marie Bochet and Benjamin Daviet! France takes 2nd place in the country rankings, and seems well on its way to meeting the goal of making the TOP 5. The supporters are wild with joy. Fans of Arthur Bauchet (silver medal winner on the first day), Yohann Taberlet and Jordan Broisin join those of Marie Bochet. All together, there are forty-some supporters at the alpine ski events to encourage the French athletes with the help of Savoyarde bells.
This euphoria lasts three days, during which the French team maintains its rhythm and wins three medals per day.
Among the athletes, morale is high: the ambiance within the group is very warm, the staff is full of energy and the medals keep coming. But this doesn’t make them any less available to speak with the press. Thanks to the French Paralympic and Sports Committee, we're able to talk to them every day at the Club France.
We gather again on 13 March for the Super G, with more high expectations for Marie Bochet, Arthur Bauchet and Frédéric François in particular. It’s the only day of the two weeks that is somewhat gloomy. Marie missed the line during the first round on the second-to-last gate, even though she had performed an excellent round up to that point. In the mixed zone, still teary-eyed with disappointment, she confides: “I missed the line; in skiing, you can’t make mistakes. But today, I’m not completely disheartened because I enjoyed myself on the slopes, and that was the goal I’d set for myself. Of course, there’s a lot of media coverage on the Super G, but for me the most important thing is to ski well and to enjoy myself.” After the race, she climbs up into the stands to be comforted by her loved ones. Her father Yvon finds the right words and provides the remedy (which also serves as a reward when she wins gold medals): a nice piece of Beaufort!
On Thursday, 15 March the alpine and Nordic skiing events are cancelled due to poor weather conditions. We head to the ice rinks to watch the sledge hockey and curling events. For the hockey event, the Canadians, like their Olympian counterparts, are largely superior to their adversaries, the Koreans. These two disciplines are a huge popular success; the two events are completely sold out. Overall, the stands were 75% full throughout the games.
On Friday 16 March, fatigue begins to set in, but the French athletes take away 3 medals. None are gold, which takes France out of the coveted TOP 5 for the moment. Athletes and supporters still have high hopes for events 17 and 18: and rightly so!
The final two days are exceptional for the French athletes: Two gold medals, one silver and one bronze for an excellent finish among the TOP 5, 4th place in the country rankings and most strikingly, 20 medals overall for a delegation of only 12 athletes and three guides. On the last night, the entire French delegation (athletes, staff, organisers, VIPs and athletes’ families) celebrates the excellent results of these two weeks.
In conclusion, it was an exceptional two weeks in the presence of athletes who are exceptional as much for their kindness and openness as for their talent. Two weeks alongside supporters, with whom we shared incredible emotions and shouted ourselves hoarse to encourage our French athletes. Two weeks with French journalists committed to bringing visibility to deserving athletes, disciplines and performances. Two weeks that were superbly organised.
I would like to thank the French Paralympic and Sports Committee, the athletes, the organisation committee and the supporters for allowing us to spend two weeks #SidebySide with the 2018 French Paralympic Team!