French freestyle skiing’s comeback kid
Ski halfpipe pioneer Marie Martinod returned from a lengthy break from competition to win silver when the event made its Olympic Winter Games debut at Sochi 2014. Having pulled off that achievement at the age of 29, she then won her maiden X Games title in Aspen in January 2017 and followed up by claiming a second World Cup title, 13 years after her first. The French freestyler then ended her career on a high by landing another Olympic silver at PyeongChang 2018.
In the blood
“My mother was a ski instructor and my father drove a snow groomer, so you could say that the mountains and skiing are in my blood,” writes Marie Martinod on her official website. Born in La Plagne, she was only seven when the Olympic Winter Games came to town in nearby Albertville in 1992, an event that inspired her.
On skis as soon as she was able to walk, her ambition was to excel at moguls and aerials, like her idols at the Albertville Games. Making great strides with her local ski club from the age of nine, she went on to become a pioneer of halfpipe skiing, a new sport that was growing in popularity.
A landmark win
A very skilled exponent of the halfpipe, Martinod won a string of national competitions before lining up in the inaugural FIS Freestyle Skiing World Cup season in 2003/04. The winner of three events, she collected the halfpipe crystal globe at the end of the campaign. She also made a name for herself at the X Games, winning bronze at the age of 22 on the Aspen superpipe in 2006.
Time-out and a return to action
It was then that Martinod decided to give it all up for love, opening a bar with her partner in La Plagne and giving birth to their daughter, Mélirose, in 2009. Having turned her back on competitive skiing, she was lured back in 2011, when she learned that the freestyle halfpipe was to be included on the Olympic Winter Games programme. Inspired to clamp on her skis again after her long break, she began her bid to qualify for Sochi 2014.
Martinod got straight back into the rhythm. Working hard with her coach, Greg Guenet, she devoted body and soul to her new objectives, and returned to winning ways in 2013, taking halfpipe victory at the X Games Europe in Tignes.
Within a year she was picking up Olympic silver in Sochi at the age of 29, breaking out a McTwist and a 900 on her second run to score 84.50 points and finish second to the USA’s Maddie Bowman on the halfpipe’s Games debut
“Ten years after my international debut I came within touching distance of my dream,” she said afterwards. Waiting for her in the arrival area at Rosa Khutor along with her daughter, mother and the rest of her supporters, was her partner Maxime, who said: “She’s trained and she’s suffered for it and now she’s got her reward. It’s great.”
“I wanted to show my daughter what it feels like to reach a goal that you’ve set for yourself,” said Martinod at the time. “She has to understand why I was doing sit-ups while she was watching cartoons.
Hitting the heights
The oldest competitor on the freestyle skiing circuit, Martinod continued to set goals for herself, though her plans were disrupted when she suffered a knee injury in December 2014 and had to sit out the rest of the season.
Undeterred, she returned to full fitness and scored another major triumph in January 2017, beating Bowman to superpipe gold at the X Games in Aspen, courtesy of a first-run score of 89.33 points.
Martinod also won three World Cup events out of four that season to claim her first crystal globe in the event in 13 years, while a World Championship silver medal also came her way in Sierra Nevada (ESP) that March.
Talking in October 2017, Martinod reflected on her career post-Sochi 2014: “I just made the most of what was happening to me. It was magical. And then I said, ‘Let’s do another season’. Then it was another and then another and then I found myself last year saying, ‘It’s the season before the Olympics’.
“I had a great run but I don’t know if it’s going to last. Everything just flowed. I didn’t have any doubts at all, and when it’s like that you can just focus on your technique, which is what’s helped me in the pipe. It creates a virtuous circle.”
Bowing out with silver
The French skier made the second and final Olympic appearance of her career at PyeongChang 2018, and began it by scoring a solid 92.20 points on her first run to lie second behind the young Canadian Cassie Sharpe. A successful 1080 grab brought her 92.60 points on her second run, though she fell on her third to allow Sharpe, who scored 95.80 on her final descent, to claim a comfortable gold.
Delighted with her second silver, Martinod said: “This second place is proof that I was right to come back after having my daughter. It’s a reward for all the work I’ve done and it also means I can leave the circuit with a message for every girl: ‘If you want to fight, you can fight right till the end, and if you look after yourself, you can do it until you’re 33 at least.”
Martinod signed off from competition in Tignes on 22 March 2018. Cheered on by a large crowd that included her family and friends, she took second place behind Sharpe once more and ahead of the USA’s Brita Sigourney, a repeat of the PyeongChang 2018 podium.
“It’s been a very special evening of hugs,” said the French star after hanging up her skis for good. “Sport creates a special respect between us all. It’s magical to finish on the podium in a halfpipe competition and experience so many emotions.”