There was a huge smile that day. Then beautiful, very hot tears, as the torrent of emotions cascading from the stands of the Accor Arena took everything away, joy and relief mixed, at Marine Boyer. After a perfect exercise on the beam, the Habs won gold in their specialty at the French Open in artistic gymnastics on September 25, a major reward for remarkable tenacity.
Because the return to grace of the 22-year-old Reunionese was far from written, at the end of the last Olympic Games. While she had gone from nothing next to the podium in 2016 in Rio (fourth), she had not even won a place in the final of her favorite apparatus in Tokyo. “When I got back, I had a lot of questions about what to do with my career, she says. The head was not going, I wondered if my body could hold. After 20 years, everything is much harder. In the morning, it hurts everywhere. We are more vulnerable. We feel old. »
“I get out of breath more quickly”
Old ? At 22 years ? Her teammate Mélanie de Jesus dos Santos displays the same age and uses the same words. “Growing up, I didn’t have any major physical problems, but now I have pain all over, I get out of breath more easily, and I’m so tired after training that I can fall asleep. The most important thing when you get older is to be vigilant. »
Lady ! With Coline Devillard, here are the gymnasts of the same generation forming the senior citizens’ club of the France team which is preparing to compete in the world championships in Liverpool alongside the young girls Aline Friess (19) and Carolann Heduit ( 18 years old). Artistic gymnastics is like this today: the average age of female champions is slowly increasing, as is the difficulty of pirouetting over the long course in a discipline that is incredibly demanding.
“The training load is enormous”
Around the platforms, the comments are therefore going well: “We hear things like: ‘The small gyms, you see them once, and then they disappear.’ Or: “The gym, it breaks”, testifies the former champion Isabelle Severino. It’s true that girls face big competitions from the age of 12, 13, and that they only take a few breaks, because you lose very quickly as soon as you stop. As a result, they are often worn out as they approach their twenties. »
Injuries then land, sometimes repeatedly, thwarting the hope of lasting. “The training load is enormous, the risk taking too, explains Doctor Pierre Billard, the doctor of the France team. The difficulty of the exercises has nothing to do with what was practiced twenty years ago: the acrobatics are higher and higher, and it is the repetition of these jumps that causes the skeleton to cash in on the landing ten times the weight of the body and is damaged. »
The essential prevention
Hence the need to develop a culture of prevention, which was not necessarily self-evident in the community. “The physiotherapists of the France team have been establishing special programs for three or four years, resumes Doctor Billard. But the coaches and athletes have to buy in, and that’s not always easy because it takes time away from other things. So we put the cover back all the time to really convince. »
Among the Blues, good habits are taken. Stretching, proprioception to accustom the nervous system to better understand information from muscles and joints… “I come fifteen minutes before training to perform these specific exercises, developed after a battery of tests that are repeated four times a year to establish a protocol”, explains Marine Boyer.
“My ankles often play tricks on me, and I have a ten-minute daily routine to work on to protect them,” adds Coline Devillard. At the slightest warning, you have to react quickly. “Above all, do not hide an injury, emphasizes Pierre Billard. It’s the ones with truly respected recovery times that are most likely to last. »
“A ‘gym’ must know how to listen to itself”
It is not always obvious. Mélanie de Jesus dos Santos knows the fragility of her knee by heart. But an operation would undoubtedly take away any chance of being fit for the Games in Paris in 2024. The surgery is therefore postponed. “A decision made with full knowledge of the facts, which does not raise ethical questions”, ensures the doctor of the Blue.
On the other hand, the champion has changed her method of preparation, joining last spring in the United States the French coaches of American star Simone Biles. “My work rhythm is different, she insists. I am no longer old enough to multiply the passages. I see every day how I feel, and I establish my program à la carte. A “gym” must know how to listen to itself. »
Overcome mental fatigue
The signals emitted by his body, but also by his head. “After ten years of having sacrificed everything in the gym, weariness often sets in. Me, I cut for four years. I shot with Cirque du Soleil, and then the urge came back, and I had better results at 25 than at 16. says Isabelle Severino, European champion (on floor) late in life, in 2005.
This blow of less well, Mélanie de Jesus dos Santos also felt it after the Tokyo Games, feeling the need for a break at home in Martinique, before having fun during an American show tour with Simone Biles . “It did me a lot of good, she confides. Mental weariness is less taboo today, and we dare to talk about it more often. I haven’t got it all sorted out. I still doubt a little. »
The interest of a mental trainer
For the moment, the help of a mental trainer has not been imposed. Marine Boyer has benefited from such support since the beginning of the year. “I had an experience of a year after the Rio Games, which I had stopped thinking I could manage on my own. But no. After Tokyo, I decided to be accompanied again, and it was the best decision I made. » Coline Devillard has also been collaborating with a mental trainer for a year: “It’s not systematized, but the federation encourages us to try. And to manage my stress, believe me, I can see that it is useful. »
Why, then, continue to inflict all this? For Paris 2024, of course, they would answer in unison. Games at home, the most powerful motivation. It would be the first for Coline, only substitute in Tokyo. Those of revenge for Mélanie, far below her claims in Japan. And the third for Marine, who would then become the first Habs in history to post a triple Olympic participation. Which would be worth all the smiles and many tears.
The Tricolores are struggling at the Worlds
75 nations and around 400 athletes meet in Liverpool for the 51st edition of the Artistic Gymnastics World Championships marked by the absence of the Russians due to the political context.
Les Bleues only brought back six medals world championships, one silver for teams in 1950, and five bronze for individuals, including that of Isabelle Severino on uneven bars in 1996 and the last, by Youna Dufournet on vault in 2009.
For men, the results are more flattering with 14 medals since 1950, including the only French world title in 2010 for Thomas Bouhail on vault.