Last year in Beaver Creek, Jean-Baptiste Grange injured himself. The ruptured anterior cruciate ligament he suffered meant that the Vancouver Olympics were to proceed without its star performer. The Frenchman was 25 at the time, and to have to bid farewell to the Olympic season came as a severe blow to him.
The veil overshadowing the men standings in this year’s alpine skiing world cup has now been lifted. The 45th edition was officially opened in Sölden a month ago with the women’s giant slalom competition. A thick fog greeted the men on the Rettenbach Glacier, forcing the opening of the new season to be moved to the previous week-end in Levi, Finland.
This time around, little comparison has been made between competitors. Instead, after last year’s Olympics, many have decided to concentrate their efforts on the team’s form, and with the arrival of new coaches, hope to outperform their rivals. The southern hemisphere provides during the summer months the scene for professional skiing. Argentina, Chile and New Zealand are the most common stops for world class skiers.
France is at the moment dominating the rankings. They stand one step ahead of the competition in both technical disciplines. The already established skiers have been joined by some younger athletes. To be noted though, is the return of the recently injured stars, such as Thomas Fanara and Jean-Baptiste Grange. The French man having previously won the 08/09 Slalom Crystal Globe top accolade. A discipline he came close to winning the previous year, but that he had to concede to the Italian Manfred Moelgg due to a mistake in the final race of the season in Bormio.
Injuries in Alpine Skiing highlight the differences that exist between bigger and lesser teams, the same way it does highlight the discrepancies between champions and less performing skiers. The former finding themselves in a really enviable position, as the contrast amplifies at the time of rehabilitation. The bigger teams or athletes, who have earned more, thus have access to treatments that are a far reach from the lesser protagonists who cannot afford the over costly insurances. This in turn might also lead to a loss of income.
Furthermore, some athletes and teams are totally left to fare for themselves, as trainers and physiotherapists limit themselves to prescribing exercises with absolutely no follow up, leaving In effect, those struggling competitors to bank solely on their determination and willingness to get through the hard times. Too many questions are left unanswered that renders it difficult for the athlete to get back to the team training, where opportunities are very few anyway. Which physiotherapist will they visit? How will they pay for the treatment or how will they train? Which diet will they implement, how much muscle mass will be lost?
This leaves a large number of athletes to forcibly abandon the sport of their dream and find other of objects interest instead.
Grange, on the other hand, did the exact the opposite thanks to the French Skiing Association (FFS), which has to deal with its own financial problems. They realised how the Frenchman aroused, over the past years, the interest of the French people in Alpine Skiing. The FFS consequently gave him all the support that he needed for a speedy recovery. Besides Grange himself, did what he thought was necessary to regain fitness.
First of all, he distanced himself from the media as he did not want his comments to interfere with the team’s work nor create unnecessary agitation before or during the Olympics. He entirely focused his efforts on himself and his speedy recovery. After a successful operation on the cruciate ligament, he visited rehabilitation centres where he was treated by the best experts.
The desired effect was achieved. In June, this year, he started snow training. The feelings of old gradually came back to the French champion. It was as if all the pieces of the puzzle fell into place. From one turn to another, Jean Batiste Grange found his way back. After a long break, he was eager to prove himself and to compete once again. The French coaches knew he was fast, but did not want to put additional pressure on him before the season. The first giant slalom ride in Sölden has already shown that his was back at the top. Then came Levi. The slalom race he won back in 2008. The same year he won this discipline. And as if the previous hadn’t existed, he clocked the fastest time. Poetry in motion, straining effortlessly the limits of the possible… Balance and short turns prevailed. In the end, the closest competitor, the Swede Andre Myhrer, grabbed second position, 0.33 sec behind the Frenchman, while the Croat Ivica Kostelič came third, clocking over a second more.
When on skis, Jean Baptiste Grange makes every move look all so simple. And yet they are not! Far from it! This has been vindicated by other athletes struggling to achieve good results. The French skier on the other hand, had no trouble at all. The boss is back! However, one must realise that rare are those who return with a win.
Urban Laurenčič original post translated by Christian Ngalikpima
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