Figure skating: Bruno Massot, the battered course of a champion on ice

At the time of the European Championships, which begin this Wednesday, January 12 in Estonia, the French skaters are under no illusion: the podium hopes are almost non-existent in the absence of the star couple of ice dance Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, who preferred to ignore the competition so as not to risk contamination with Covid-19 within a month of the Beijing Olympics.

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This zero point on the medal table reflects the state of hexagonal skating under reconstruction. On the side of Normandy in particular, where, however, a beautiful story has been told in recent months: that of Bruno Massot, the native of the country who went to gild his reputation in Germany, Olympic champion under the Germanic flag in 2018 at the PyeongChang Games, back today in his club in Caen with a project in line with the desire for federal renovation. The realization of a dream, which took very devious ways to come true.

Olympic gold for Germany

First fork in 2014. Bruno Massot flies to Germany, to join the skater with whom he wants to relaunch, Aljona Savchenko. Leaving his long-standing club, the Caen sports and leisure artist (Acsel), was not the first idea. With his trainer Jean-François Ballester, Bruno Massot was thinking rather of bringing his future partner to France. Except that the French Ice Sports Federation is dragging its feet. On the contrary, his German counterpart offers the champion all the facilities to move. “The difference was huge, and I first thought about my career”, says the skater.

Bruno Massot settles across the Rhine. Jean-François Ballester, after twenty years of service in Caen, set out to found a high-level training center in Switzerland, while continuing to coach his foal. Four years later, the consecration. It was written ? Not really. “For eighteen months, the French Federation refused to release me, emphasizes Bruno Massot. I trained, but without the possibility of competing. I was living on € 200 per month. Obviously, it was not the ideal for skating serenely. When the situation was resolved, there were injuries, nothing was ever easy. So yes, the medal is beautiful, but what sacrifices! “

It does not appear on the 4 minutes and 30 minutes of the free development of the couple in PyeongChang. The tandem is weightless, succeeding in tricks and carried to perfection. At the time of the verdict of the judges, it is a torrent of tears. “I had enormous stress, I skated like a lion, with rage, Bruno Massot saw again. Twenty-three years of career that were played out there, in a few minutes. Afterwards, everything gave up. “

The return of the child prodigy

Bruno Massot finished in style, with a world title in stride. Time to put away the skates, to go train with Jean-François Ballester in Switzerland. But his mentor died six months later. “All my life, I never made a decision without his advice, loose the champion. I was lost, without landmarks. “ The Covid also complicates the situation. So with his wife, Bruno matures the idea of ​​returning home. At the turn of the year 2021, he called the president of Acsel in Caen.

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“Bruno’s phone call presenting me his training center project was timely, indicates Ludovic Le Guennec. With the Covid, we had lost nearly 40% of our young people. We had to start from zero, on detection. Bruno was helping us to come out of a rather depressive period. “ It was still necessary to organize new occupancy slots for the ice rink, to obtain the support of local communities, of the federation. But this time, all the planets align. “I arrived in May 2021 on a red carpet, with a federation determined to rebuild by betting on new talents that I want to develop”, rejoices the gold medalist.

The center already has a dozen students. Bruno Massot is looking to recruit skaters and hopes to eventually have six couples. The structure must gain momentum, with a second training track that will have to be built by 2026, says the municipality. “In the meantime, we have to adapt and be patient, but we are on the right track”, assures the champion who already sees one of his young couples with astonishing progression skating in Milan in 2026. Bruno Massot believes in it. With determination. And also a lot of emotion: “I am in my ice rink, where it all began, and at the edge of the track in place of Jean-François Ballester who would have wanted so much to found a center here in Caen. It’s done. Let’s be up to it. “


Reduced numbers at the European Championships

In Tallinn, the blue delegation will consist of three pairs, a skater and a skater. But getting a podium would be a miracle. The last time the Blues posted a virgin record at the Euro, it was in 2014, the first continental competition of the ice dance tandem Gabriella Papadakis-Guillaume Cizeron. Since then, the duo has always held its place. The Blues will still count on the two champions at the Beijing Games to win a medal. They will be accompanied by the two skaters Adam Siao Him Fa and Kevin Aymoz, to complete the weakest French delegation in the history of the Games.



Beijing 2022: Antoine Gélinas-Beaulieu stronger than the depression

He believed that his Olympic dream would once again slip through his fingers. Like four years ago, when he missed qualifying for the Olympics in Korea by three hundredths. This time, on October 11, on the ice in Calgary, Antoine Gélinas-Beaulieu collapsed, mown down by a competitor, in the semifinals of the mass start, a spectacular race that sees a maximum of 24 skaters compete over 16 laps of 400 meters.

The Canadian World Cup stage qualifies for the Beijing Winter Games in February. “I thought my chances of qualifying had fallen into the water”, confides the Canadian skater, finally drafted in extremis by the judges, before validating his ticket for China in the final.

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At 29, Antoine Gélinas-Beaulieu will therefore participate in his first Games. ” My biggest dream, admits the skater, his voice full of excitement. When I was 9, I watched Canadian skaters at the Salt Lake City Games.I told myself that I would do anything to be there one day. ” A late participation, almost an anomaly for the man who was considered one of the greatest hopes of world speed skating. “In junior, I had a meteoric career, says the Quebecer. I was vice-world champion and I was convinced that the first place was for me. “

Retirement at 19

The trail to the summits was all laid out, but Antoine Gélinas-Beaulieu derailed. Blame it on overtraining and a toxic work environment. His trainer accuses him of ” to pretend “ when he is seized with asthma attacks, which will quickly turn into anxiety attacks. At 18, the kid fell into depression. “I felt extremely tired. I remained bedridden, unable to get out. “ When he finds the energy to go on the ice, he even sometimes “Fall unconscious”.

In 2012, plagued by an evil on which he can not put words, the young man retired at 19 years old. Antoine Gélinas-Beaulieu begins film studies, works as a waiter in bars, embarks on a great journey. India, Nepal, China: more than six months traveling alone which will do him the greatest good: “It allowed me to take another look at myself. I finally became aware of my psychological fragility. “

“I had the impression that a loop was not closed”

On his return, Antoine Gélinas-Beaulieu is better. But not to the point of wanting to put the skates back on: “I did not expect to return to high level sport one day. I thought I was doing something completely different with my life. “ Three years go by then, in 2015, the young man begins to feel a void. “I was young, I worked as a bartender and I felt that I had no more goals. I had the impression that a circle had not come full circle ”, remembers the skater.

That year, he met Steve Robillard, his current coach, in a bar in Montreal. The latter convinces him to return to the ice. The former junior champion resumes the thread of his career with one goal: to participate in the Olympics. He moved to Quebec to resume training. He is welcomed there with open arms. “With Steve, I rediscovered the creativity and the freedom that made me love this sport so much when I was young”, rejoices the athlete.

Back to the top

The return to the highest level remains difficult. “Sometimes, in certain rinks, symptoms of my depression reappeared”, notes Antoine Gélinas-Beaulieu. This time, the speed skater talks about it to those around him. He gets help from professionals to treat what he calls his “Mental injuries”. He also applies certain breathing techniques from yoga, a discipline discovered during his trip, to contain his anxiety attacks as the races approach.

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Thanks to an effective psychological follow-up and a training program based on the well-being of the athlete, Antoine Gélinas-Beaulieu returns to the heights of world speed skating. Proud to have conquered his demons, the skater shows ambition but does not want to put pressure on himself: “I have the potential to bring home a medal but I’m going to Beijing with a light mind. My dream was to qualify for the Olympics and it has already come true. “


Breaking the taboo of depression

Like the queen of gymnastics Simone Biles and the icon of women’s tennis Naomi Osaka, athletes have recently dared to break the taboo of depression in high performance sport. “In the competitive world, a psychological problem is a weakness, and some can use it against you. I did not dare to ask for help and I ended up isolating myself ”, regrets Antoine Gélinas-Beaulieu. Today well in his skates, the Canadian wishes to highlight this phenomenon: “I receive messages from athletes who have identified with my story and who thank me for talking about it. It touches me. “



New boom for rollerblading and skateboarding

The balance is still a little precarious, but on this very sunny Saturday in Toulouse, Émilie displays a radiant smile: in the end, rollerblading is not that complicated. “I decided to get started after the second confinement, says the 30-something. I took my time to learn during the winter with my companion, used to the practice. The goal is to get to work, three kilometers from my home. At the beginning of June, I start. “

Getting around on small wheels is also the choice of 20-year-old Leah, but she chose skateboarding. “I did not dare too much, explains the student, but I tried my luck with some buddies during the first lockdown, taking advantage of the authorized hour-long walk and the fact that there was not a lot of traffic. I hung on well. I am not daredevil, I do not do figures. I’m using it to go to college. The next step is the electric longboard that I will buy myself this summer. “

The conjunction of several phenomena

In Toulouse as in other metropolises, it is obvious: skates, rollerblades and other skates are out again. It is certainly not a tsunami with wheels, but the trend is real, and especially in contrast to recent years when this form of urban sliding seemed out of fashion. “This return to form is the conjunction of several phenomena, underlines Boris Darlet, the president of the French Federation of roller and skateboard (FFRS). During confinement, families looked for ways to move, and in urban areas rollerblading reappeared as a fun and accessible slide. On the other hand, there is a search for alternative mobility to which our disciplines respond. And, finally, social networks have also participated in the revival of the practice, particularly for rollerblading dance. “

From the summer of 2020, the number of videos of young dancers on the TikTok and Instagram applications has multiplied, which revived the “rollergirls” vogue of the 1970s and 1980s. “The ‘old’ roller skates – quads – do an incredible job comeback and we even have shortages ”, says Jonathan Maupin, communications manager at Oxelo, the brand launched in 2008 by Decathlon for urban board sports. “For roller skating more broadly, the market is traditionally driven by children’s products, but here we are seeing a 20% increase in adult products. This is important in France, but also in many countries, with madness in the Netherlands where growth is close to 200%. “

Sustain the practices

This enthusiasm, the RSMC does not yet measure in its clubs, most of which had mainly developed indoor activities in recent years. “With rink hockey, artistic rollerblading, we have invested a lot in gymnasiums, and the closures linked to confinements have inevitably reduced the number of licensees, from 65,000 to 49,000 with the pandemic. But the clubs are trying to adapt by reinvesting in the streets, and it is now up to us to capture new practitioners ”, considers Boris Darlet.

The manager is also counting on a new partnership with Decathlon, which offers, when purchasing roller skates, a free course, and offers to be found on a digital platform set up with the manufacturer ( “These disciplines are marked by too much” abandonment “: we try and put the roller blades on the shelf., notes Jonathan Maupin. We therefore now wish to support practices to make them sustainable. Skateboarding can also benefit from its inclusion in the Tokyo Olympics program to better reveal itself to a large audience. “

The debates between supporters of the skate lifestyle, fearing that their culture will be diluted too much in the Olympic bath, and supporters of the opening to competition seem less virulent than in 2016, when the announcement was made. integration into the Games. “We have less than 3,000 licensees in skateboarding, the clubs are only present in 10% of skateparks in France, and we therefore have a whole practice to structure before the 2024 Games. Skateboarding, until then very marginal, can become our lead product ”, bet Boris Darlet. By changing in passing an image of rebellious sport reserved for a few fierce stuntmen. “A fairly negative view still remains in the general public, regrets Jonathan Maupin. While the discipline is already changing. It is particularly feminized. And the Tokyo Games, welcoming 40 champions and 40 champions, will show this real and really interesting evolution of practice. “


The popularity of rollerdance

And here is the good old skate which returns in the dance. With, as often, a “buzz” rising on social networks. From spring 2020, some young practitioners such as Cuban actress Ana Coto or Berliner Oumi Janta record millions of views with their videos on TikTok or Instagram. Fashion is launched, and the wave continues to grow. An update, in fact, of the “rollergirls” of the 1970s and 1980s, including the disco queens Cher or Olivia Newton-John, and many others who populated the clips of Californian music on repeat on the MTV channel. . Today, it is also the American star Lana Del Rey who recycles the image with her latest hit, White Dress.