Vaultier eyes more gold in PyeongChang
Veteran of the FIS Snowboard World Cup, Pierre Vaultier shrugged off injury to land a long-awaited gold at Sochi 2014. Crowned world champion in 2017, the snowboarder has his sights set on retaining his Olympic title at PyeongChang 2018.
A pioneering OlympianBorn in Briançon in France’s Hautes-Alpes, snowboard cross star Pierre Vaultier made his international debut in 2005, a year in which he also won his first national title and took third in the FIS Snowboard Junior World Championships in Zermatt (SUI). The Frenchman was 18 when he took part in the first ever Olympic snowboard cross competition at Turin 2006 where he finished 35th, gaining valuable experience for the future.
His first taste of Olympic competition was the start of a glittering career. A World Cup winner for the first time in Stoneham (USA) in March 2007, he scored four more victories the following season to collect his first snow cross crystal globe. The snowboarder suffered an injury setback in 2009 but was back on top the next season, scoring six wins to lift another crystal globe and finish second in the overall snowboard standings. Yet he fell short of expectations at Vancouver 2010, losing out in the quarterfinals and ending in 9th place despite being a favourite for gold.
A way of life“Snowboard ties in with my philosophy towards life, which has helped me, ever since I was young, to be open-minded and to drink in everything that sport has to offer, both its values and constraints,” explained Vaultier of his approach to snowboarding. “I learned at a very early age to divide my time between my sporting career and my studies, so that I could continue studying geography. I was on skis for the first time when I was two and I just moved towards snowboard when I was five, and then into competition (first in the giant slalom and then snowboard cross).” “I’ve improved steadily throughout my sporting career and I’ve been able to reach the top of my discipline. What I love about snowboard is the spirit and sense of freedom that make it so different to other sports. I love fighting to get to the line first and being fastest in a race.”
Injury setbackFailure blighted Vaultier once again at the World Championships, prompting him to comment: “I really want to be successful at the world championships and the Olympic Games. I’m going to try and win all the titles I can.” He remained a force on the World Cup scene, lifting his third snowboard cross crystal globe in 2012. However, his career came to an abrupt halt on 21 December 2013, when he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee at a World Cup event in Lake Louise (USA).
“My participation at the Sochi Games was in serious doubt but my surgeon set me a crazy challenge,” Vaultier later explained. “He ruled out an operation and prescribed muscle re-education and strengthening exercises so that I could go out and compete in the most important race of my life on 18 February 2014.” His surgeon’s gamble paid off, with Vaultier making the start line for the snowboard cross at Sochi 2014, albeit out of the favourites and sporting a splint on his right leg.
Olympic gloryThick fog led to the cancellation of the seeding run, forcing the whole field into an elimination round that saw several favourites tumble out of the competition. Vaultier had no such problems. Looking assured and flying into the jumps, the Frenchman won his elimination-round, quarter-final and semi-final races from the front. In the final, he battled it out with Russia’s Nikolay Olyunin on the first few corners before gradually pulling away to win by a comfortable margin, with Olyunin taking silver and Alex Diebold of the USA the bronze.
Making a miracle“It’s incredible, a miracle,” said Vaultier of his miraculous change in fortune. “This was virtually unthinkable a couple of months ago. It hasn’t sunk in. It feels like I’ve taken off on the last jump and haven’t come down yet. “I think coming here as an outsider has helped me, because I find it very hard to handle the pressure at big events. There was a lot less pressure on me today and I enjoyed it a lot more. I was finally able to do it. I wasn’t any more stressed than I usually am before a World Cup race and I’ve won lots of World Cups.”
“The pressure on me was very positive in fact,” he added. “I executed everything right from the first run, whereas in Vancouver the only thing I ‘executed’ was my status as the favourite. I’ve been myself here and I’ve been able to express myself. “It was a bit like double or quits for me here, and in the end it was double. To be first at the bottom is just great. I put everything I had into it, but if you’d said to me a week ago that I’d end up being the Olympic champion, I would have laughed in your face.”
Wave of successVaultier maintained his momentum in the following seasons, earning a fourth snowboard cross World Cup title in 2016. Speaking after his win in Sun Valley (USA) that year, he said: “I want to make the most of the form I’m in and build up for 2018. I can’t wait to check out the Olympic course. I’ll need to have my wits about me so I can pick up as much information as I can, which is exactly what I did in Sochi in 2013.”
Vaultier ended up second behind the USA’s Nate Holland in the PyeongChang 2018 test event at Bokwang Phoenix Park and then in March 2017 in Sierra Nevada (ESP), he finally secured the world championship crown on his sixth attempt. First in the qualification round, he rounded off what he described as “ a perfect day” by easing to victory over Spain’s Lucas Eguibar and Australia’s Alex Pullin in the final.
He had another day to remember 15 days later. Trailing Italy’s Omar Visintin by 20 points in the overall World Cup standings ahead of the final race of the season in Veysonnaz (SUI), Vaultier prevailed in the final to snatch his fifth snowboard cross crystal globe. Vaultier ended the season with 20 World Cup victories and 29 podium finishes to his name so far in his career. Now the most successful boarder cross racer of all time, will the flying Frenchman enjoy yet another perfect day at PyeongChang 2018?