Nearly 2 years has gone by since SK8skool visited the national centre for Speedskating in France, Now some of these skaters are superstars. It still makes an interesting read :)
Sk8skool has been in France recently; specifically in Nantes at the C.R.E.P.S. (Centre de Ressources d’Expertise et de Performance Sportives) This is the French equivalent of a “Centre for Excellence in Sports Performance”. This is the support organization for “Pôle” (as in “Pole Position” in Formula 1 motor racing) which is the Elite Sports Organization in France.
I spent 3 days with Arnaud Gicquel, the Coach and organizer of “Pôle Roller” (Inline Speedskating) in Nantes, exchanging ideas, sharing resources, asking and answering questions and, to be honest, eating some really nice French food!
I’ve known Arnaud for almost 25 years, since we first raced each other in San Benedetto del Tronto, Italy in 1989. I remember seeing him on the parabolic track by the sea, he won one of the senior races (he was only 16 then) and had “foot speed” (cadence) like I’d never seen before. I’d only been racing for a little over a year, (but had been to watch both Worlds and Euro’s), so the sport was very new to me, but I was hooked already. Arnaud Gicquel was 4 times world champion in the ‘90s and ‘00s, and 40 times European Champion. If this isn’t enough to impress you, he was also 16 times Silver medalist at Worlds, most times just behind the legend that was Chad Hedrick.
There are 17 CREPS in France, for almost every sport and in every region in France. 4 CREPS have Speedskating (Nantes, Bordeaux, Dijon and Saint Brieux). The CREPS are funded by “Sports Ministry” (Government) and is specialized funding for sport. Most CREPS have their own specialist facilities, but Nantes doesn’t yet. CREPS in Nantes use the facilities available in the town, which involves some travel, but the system still functions. However, in 2017 they plan to build one big CREPS in Nantes with it’s own facilities. (And for skating this may mean a banked track, road, and indoor facilities). … Speedskaters Paradise? :-)
I must admit that the level of organization in French Speedskating is impressive. And maybe it is because of this that Inline Speedskating in France is taken seriously by officials and administrators from OTHER sports. I could only with for this in many other countries I could mention. Inside the CREPS buildings, posters of famous skaters sit along side posters of footballers, basketball players, rowers and tennis players. It REALLY IS accepted as a serious sport. This was SO REFRESHING.
There are 350 Speedskating clubs in France. And 11 clubs in Nantes alone! (Nantes city has a population of 280,000 people) Most clubs are training 5 times per week. In the south of France most clubs train 6-7 times a week. CREPS (Pole) provides expert guidance and training for the selected skaters, if those skaters wish, in every aspect of elite sport. As an athlete, if you come are accepted or invited to be a full-time member of CREPS, then you usually leave your club. This sometimes causes problems with club coaches, but most realize that it is best for the athlete to go to an academy where there is expert coaching, and a structure where there is enough time in their daily schedule.
Other than Speedskating, 14 sports are provided for in Nantes CREPS and there are 75 students/athletes, 10 of these are skaters. Students have a specialist school program so it allows time for study and sport. Physio and doctor access is also available. The classes are small to maximize the efficiency of learning, and therefore time. The maximum student/teacher ratio is 8:1, but is sometimes as low as 5:1 for skaters. In other sports in the CREPS school system the ratios is sometimes as low as 3:1, and in special cases 1:1. It depends on the budget of the sport.
CREPS in Nantes has produced some top class skaters since its beginnings in 1993. The following skaters spent at least part of their career at CREPS in Nantes. If you’re a Speedskater I am sure you recognize some of these names… Yann Guyader, Alexis Contin, Natalie Barbotin, Gwendal Le Pivert… and many more.
The current flock are up and coming, but some have already grabbed world and European medals, I’m sure you know some of these names already, but probably a good idea to watch them in the future… Quentin Giraudeau 18, Deborah Marchand 19, Jeson Mustiere 18, Brian Lepine 18, and more… (See the poster at the top of the article)
Just to give you an idea of how it is, here’s a video I found, but it is not Nantes CREPS (Pole), it’s from another region I France, with Coach Matthieu Boher. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qJWWutEbj5M
I came home from my visit with many thoughts in my head about the future of our sport. If every country could do this, then maybe we would have a chance at being Olympic sometime soon. It just takes organizing. The French started this project in 1993, and had success very quickly. Within 5 years. It’s developed in to something fantastic, and looks to be working time and time again as they continue to produce world-class skaters.
It was a great trip and a valuable exchange, I came home with was a lot of inspiration, excitement and information.
I think it’s many skaters’ dream to be accepted in to a system like this, and have a real chance at living for skating, whilst not missing out on an education. Many skaters over the world either don’t have any chance like this in either skating or school, OR they have to make a hard choice when they are 16 between sport and education. All too many choose education and drop their sport. Bravo à la France for giving young skaters the chance at their dreams.
it was easy to see, just from these few young skaters, that the system is working, the skaters appreciate the chance they’ve got, and they take their sport seriously, they work in a dedicated manor with focus and determination.