The dominant force in women’s freestyle skiing halfpipe during the 2016/17 season, France’s Marie Martinod is pumped up for PyeongChang 2018, where she hopes to go one better than the silver she won at Sochi 2014.
Martinod will head to her second and final Olympic Winter Games on the back of a superb season, in which she was at the very height of her powers. An X-Games champion in Aspen (USA), the French freestyler won three out of four FIS World Cup events to clinch the crystal globe, a full 13 years after claiming her first, which came in the inaugural women’s World Cup season.
Inspired by Albertville
Martinod hails from the French Alps, not far from Albertville, which played host to the 1992 Winter Games. Indeed, it was watching those Games that inspired her to aim for sporting success.
“I was at that age where you dream about things and get carried away,” she recalls. “I remember the Opening Ceremony on TV. It was so colourful, and there was that big tall mast with all these ropes, and acrobats and dancers in costumes hanging from them and doing somersaults. It was like something out of a fairy tale. In 1992, there were only six TV channels and no internet, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it.”
However, it was not the skiing events that most captured her imagination. “I went to a four-man bobsleigh competition in La Plagne,” she reveals. “The track seemed so long to me and the tight turns so high, and there were so many people there. And then there was that flame burning over our heads.
“My parents stored the bobsleigh of the Virgin Islands team in our garage at home for a whole year to help them out and save them from having to pay to ship it back at the end of the pre-Olympic season. I remember climbing into it with my friends. It was like the whole Games had been in my garage, right next to my bike. I was eight and it was amazing.”
A dream fulfilled
On skis as soon as she could walk, Martinod was immediately drawn to the moguls. Inspired by the athletes she watched at the Albertville Games, she learned her trade at the ski club in La Plagne (FRA) and went on to become a pioneer in the all-new freestyle skiing halfpipe event.
A world No1 in 2004, Martinod then decided to give it all up for love at the age of 22. Together with her husband Maxime, she took over a bar in La Plagne and then gave birth to a baby daughter, Mélirose, in 2009.
Then, in 2011, came a piece of news that would prompt her to return to competition: the inclusion of halfpipe ski on the Olympic programme.
“I said to my husband: ‘I have to come back’”, she recalls. “He laughed and replied: ‘Yes, of course. On you go.’
“I started with small competitions in the local area,” she continued. “I did one in Tignes and another in La Plagne and won them both. So, I just went for it. I said to myself that I had to try. [My husband] didn’t have a choice anymore. He wasn’t upset about it, but it wasn’t the life I’d sold him at the start.”
Martinod got down to the job of preparing for Sochi 2014. The hard work paid off, as she finished behind the USA’s Maddie Bowman to claim a silver medal.
“To me, the Games are a childhood dream. Now I regard them as the biggest international competition of all. It’s the culmination of a lot of hard work and soul-searching. It’s the joy of sharing a unique sporting moment that brings every nation together for two weeks. I’m not just representing skiing or my team-mates or my team; I’m representing my whole country.”
Near perfect season
“I live in the present. I made the most of what happened to me. It was just magical,” she recalls. “Then I just said that I’d do another season, and then another, and then another. And suddenly I found myself saying last winter: ‘There’s just a season to go before the [PyeongChang Winter] Olympics.’
“Everything I did worked out for me. There were no doubts in my mind. I was able to focus on my technique, and that’s what saved me in the pipe. It was a virtuous circle.
“I had three or four pretty incredible months but fatigue got the better of me at the end of the season, at the World Championships.”
After beating Bowman at the X-Games and pocketing the FIS crystal globe, Martinod stumbled at the last hurdle, finishing second behind Japan’s Ayana Onozuka at the 2017 FIS Freestyle Ski & Snowboard World Championships in Sierra Nevada (ESP).
Tough challenge ahead
While she harbours dreams of halfpipe gold at Bokwang Phoenix Park, the French freestyler is realistic about her chances: “The level is getting harder and harder and there are four or five of us who are capable of winning the Games. If all the girls ski at their best level, then I won’t win. There’s a huge amount of pressure at the Games, though, and the winner will be the one who’s able to get closest to perfection,” she predicts.
“I have to come up with some new things because I can’t go to the Games and do the same run I did last winter… I’ll know what’s possible when I’m there. You can use a bit of strategy to spring a surprise or two and wow the judges.”
Come what may, there is no doubt that Martinod is relishing the prospect of her Olympic swansong. “I’m going to enjoy my last Games as much as I can,” she enthuses. “They’re amazing. They’re the pinnacle for every athlete. I look on it all like a gift. I don’t say to myself: ‘What have you done to deserve this?’ If it’s happening to me, it’s because I deserve it. But I do say to myself: ‘What are you going to do to repay people for the pleasure they have given you?’
“If you want to achieve success at the Olympics, you have to work, be mentally prepared, make sacrifices, make the right choices and try and balance everything. My entourage, all the people who have supported and helped me, mean an awful lot to me. I’d get nowhere with just my talent and me on their own.”