Marie-Laure Brunet was one of the pillars of the French biathlon team until the end of her career in 2014. She won two Olympic medals in Vancouver in 2010, and today puts her experience to good use as a corporate well-being and performance consultant. An Athlete Role Model at the Lausanne 2020 YOG, Marie-Laure Brunet tells us how much she will enjoy sharing her experiences with the young athletes competing next January.
What was your first Olympic experience?
I took part in the 2005 Winter European Youth Olympic Festival in Monthey, in Switzerland. That was my first big international competition with athletes doing a sport other than mine. At the time, there were no YOG. So for us, it was already a foretaste of the biggest international competitions, with this kind of organisation… I’ve got great memories of it. It was fun, and a few years afterwards at the Games in Vancouver and then Sochi, I bumped into athletes I’d met at the EYOF, including some other biathletes! It was an opportunity to learn about how our NOC was organised, and the support which has obviously been there for me throughout my career.
In 2010, you brought home two medals from the Games in Vancouver…
Vancouver was my first great experience. I was clearly an outsider; nobody was expecting much of me. That was a great position to be in, as I knew what I was capable of. Especially after the sprint, in which I finished sixth. I knew that if I did the job properly, I could win a medal. I like the shooting and the confrontation; I knew that, if I stayed focused, things would work out. People were telling me “Go there for the experience, and see how things go.” But that wasn’t what I was thinking at all. I was going there to play my strongest card.
I won the bronze in the pursuit, which was amazing. I’d taken up biathlon after watching Raphaël Poirée on television, during the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City. It was a real ambition for me. And eight years later, I had my own medal. It was incredible to have gone so far so quickly. But I wasn’t prepared for the consequences, all the stuff that comes with it. The journalists told me: “This medal will change your life,” and I answered: “No, no, I’m still the same.” I didn’t want to admit to myself that my life really had changed! It taught me so much about myself, managing my career and my image… It was an incredible learning process.
The silver medal we then won in the women’s relay was the icing on the cake. An individual podium is an emotion that you experience alone, and it’s difficult to be happy when there are others going after the medal but don’t get it. That was the case for Sandrine Bailly, for example. It’s the only thing missing from her list of achievements. The team silver medal at Vancouver 2010 was something we all worked for together; it was fantastic.
What do you remember most about your career as a biathlete?
The first thing is my first relay medal at the World Championships in Östersund in 2008. I was the little girl among all the older ones; it was really great. But what I remember above all is the human adventure, because obviously you’re in a team that you haven’t chosen; you’re together all the time and you all want to be the best. That sometimes creates tensions. And then afterwards, with hindsight, you’re friends for life. We meet up every year and spend weekends together!
If you were asked to promote biathlon, what would you say?
As a sport, biathlon is full of suspense. You have to be able to go very fast on skis, get your pulse up, but in just a few seconds manage to shift into a much calmer mode. You have to know how to steady yourself even though the clock is still ticking; and that’s when you’re face to face with the target, or rather, face to face with yourself. You have to control your emotions, all those distracting thoughts that come with those five bullets, so many scenarios that go through your mind in the space of 25 seconds. You have to stay focused on how you’re going to knock down those five targets. It’s that duality between the action and the time when you have to focus your thoughts that makes biathlon so fantastic. It’s a sport that’s above all for competitors; but today, there are an increasing number of possibilities for practising it as a leisure activity. In my professional work, I offer teambuilding courses using biathlon. I use my sport as a teaching tool to highlight the skills and driving force of a company.
What will you be doing as an Athlete Role Model at Lausanne 2020?
I’m going to be as accessible as possible for the young athletes: the biathletes, but others too. The idea is to share my experience of the Games and of practising high-level sport, and to make them aware of a number of points, with tips on achieving peak performance. I’ll base what I say on my own experience, the lessons I learned from the good and the less good experiences. I’ll be there to share as much as I can. There’ll be workshops, but I’ll also be available to everyone. I want to be accessible so that the young athletes can come and ask their questions and discuss things.
What message have you got for the YOG athletes?
You’re here to compete because you really want to do your best on the day that matters. So do what you know how to do; don’t try to invent something; and you’ll be fine. Be open and willing to learn. Don’t be afraid to talk to athletes from other countries and other disciplines. You’re there to gain experience, so keep your eyes and ears open. Reach out to others and learn as much as you can, as this will help you with the rest of your career.
What does it mean for you to be an Athlete Role Model at the YOG?
I’m very pleased to have been offered this role. Communication is important to me. It’s something I’ve tried to do whenever I can since ending my career. Other people did that for me, and it’s important to play that particular role. I’m very enthusiastic about having this mission during the YOG.