Michael Poettoz’s plot to put Colombian winter sports on the map
Born in Colombia but raised in France, Michael Poettoz will become the first man to represent Colombia in Alpine Skiing at the Olympic Winter Games when he takes to the slopes at PyeongChang 2018. It won’t be his first taste of Olympic competition however, having competed at the 2016 Winter Youth Olympic Games in Lillehammer. A slalom and giant slalom specialist, Poettoz has high hopes of raising the profile of winter sports in his native country.
From an early age, Poettoz dreamed of becoming one of the best alpine skiers in the world, and competing at PyeongChang 2018 is the first step on that path. “I was born in Cali, Colombia, on 21 August 1998,” he explains. “My parents Michel and Cécile Poettoz adopted me when I was 21 months old.”
His adoptive parents lived in Metz-Tessy, not far from Carroz d’Arâches, a ski resort in the French Alps, and it was there that he first learned to ski. “My dad taught me how to ski when I was three years old and since then it has become my passion.” Poettoz was just 12 years old when his talent started to shine through and he won his first age group competitions.
In 2015, at the age of 16, Poettoz joined Orsatus Ski Racing Club - a high-performance training centre in Meribel. It was then that the question of nationality arose: “My parents adopted me in Colombia and I decided to compete for that country. I’m well connected there and I’m really keen to promote winter sports in Colombia, alongside the Colombian National Olympic Committee (NOC), who are developing a lot of projects like starting up schools.”
Poettoz will not be the only Colombian competing at PyeongChang. Also flying the flag for their country will be Sebastian Uprimmy, in the cross-country skiing, and Pedro Causil and Laura Gomez in the speed skating.
Highs and lows at the Winter Youth Olympic Games
The young Colombian’s first experience of Olympic competition in Lillehammer was not smooth sailing, however: “Just before the Winter Youth Olympic Games, I cut my left knee with the edge of my ski. I had to have stitches and couldn’t train properly,” he explains.
His results were not what he hoped for either when he reached the Games, being knocked out after the first run of the slalom and the second run of the giant slalom.
“It was my first experience of racing at that level”, he continues. “It was weird for me because I’d never seen so many people watching and you have to learn to deal with it. It’s difficult to concentrate with such a buzz. My race was over almost before it had begun.”
Despite the outcome, Poettoz has only good memories of his experience. “It was incredible! I met lots of people, trained with athletes from other countries, made new friends and loved seeing everyone gathered in the same place…What I learned is how to manage the experience, to not panic, to organise my time better and stay focused by ignoring everything else going on. It has increased my desire to compete in the ‘real’ Games!”
Focus on PyeongChang
Since Lillehammer, ‘Micha’ has continued to train intensively, spending time in Argentina in the summer and Sweden in the autumn. He has competed around the world on the FIS circuit, including in South American Cups, European Cups and junior races, with a best result of second place in the giant slalom at the South American Cup in Bariloche (ARG). He also won fourth place twice in races in Bosnia and Montenegro and a further fifth place, enough to earn him his Olympic berth.
Giant slalom is the young skier’s favourite discipline, with American Ted Ligety his idol - the triple world champion and Olympic gold medallist known for his perfect turns.
The Colombian is heading to PyeongChang with big ambitions. He aims to place within the top 30 for both events, which would qualify him for the second run.
“What I want above all is to have an international career and I see the Games as a stepping stone, especially towards the 2019 World Championships in Sweden,” he confesses. “I want to have results like Colombia has never had before. I was the first Colombian to compete in the Worlds in Saint Moritz in 2017. In the Republic of Korea, I’ll be the first man.” He will be following in the footsteps of Cynthia Denzler, who represented Colombia in the women’s slalom and giant slalom at Vancouver 2010.
“In a few years, I want to earn my place at the top. The Colombian NOC is trying to promote Alpine Skiing more, but there is still more work to be done, although I feel like there’s some interest, especially in the media. This is the first big step on a road that I hope will be long and successful!”