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A former Alpine skier, Jean-Frédéric Chapuis switched to ski cross at the age of 20, and just a few years later won a gold medal in the discipline at Sochi 2014.
Born in the French Alpine commune of Bourg-Saint-Maurice to a French father and Swiss mother, Jean-Frédéric Chapuis spent much of his childhood on the slopes of the Val Thorens resort in the Trois Vallées ski region. His Alpine skiing talents led him to the threshold of the French national team, although he was unable to make the breakthrough he had hoped for.
The dual national then tried his luck in Switzerland, joining a club in Graubünden, but again he failed to make the step up to international level. “I spent a great year there, which gave me the desire to ski again and improved my physical strength,” he said. “I was able to rebuild my confidence. It was in Switzerland that I learned that hard work gets results.”
Despite being crowned junior slalom champion in Germany, he had not built up enough FIS points to gain promotion to the senior circuit, and promptly returned to Val Thorens.
In 2010, following an invitation from the French Skiing Federation, the 20-year-old Chapuis tried his hand at ski cross, immediately making an impression with his quick and instinctive style, as well as his huge potential. He made his FIS World Cup debut in December 2010, and after several semi-final appearances, was soon breaking into the top 10 of the world rankings. Going into the 2013 FIS Freestyle World Ski Championships in Voss (NOR), however, he had yet to register a win and had just one podium appearance to his name. On 10 March, he surged to a commanding victory, forcing the highly fancied Jouni Pellinen (FIN) into a mistake at the foot of the course and becoming the first Frenchman to be crowned world champion in the event.
“I really enjoy ski cross – I love reaching high speeds and attempting high turns on quite varied courses,” explained Chapuis. “You have to be able to demonstrate self-control and anticipate your opponents’ actions.
“Technically speaking, I think I’m at a pretty good level, but there’s still a lot of room for improvement. My instincts are good; I’m able to make decisions quickly. I like taking risks, so this sports suits me wonderfully well. But I need to make sure I just take things one step at a time.”
The Frenchman’s instincts were again on display the week following his World Championship exploits, as he finally picked up his first World Cup win in Åre (SWE).
Chapuis, having comfortably negotiated the early rounds of the 2014 Olympic ski cross event at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park in Sochi, found himself in the Big Final on 20 February alongside compatriots Arnaud Bovolenta and Jonathan Midol, as well as Canada’s Brady Leman.
The reigning world champion, wearing green, took an early lead, a position he would only give up briefly to Bovolenta mid-race on his way to a remarkable triumph. With Leman falling towards the end, France claimed a historic 1-2-3, Bovolenta and Midol taking silver and bronze respectively.
“At the final jump, I knew I was ahead, and I just tried to enjoy the feeling,” he explained after the race. “I turned around and saw the other French skiers. I couldn’t believe it – even in my dreams, things hadn’t turned out as well as that!
And he says that the events of that final are sure to live long in the memories of the French trio.. “In 10 to 15 years, when we get together for a meal, we’ll look at each other and say, ‘Do you still remember that day?’”