Saturday, November 13, 2010

My take on Georges Joubert

Early this month, this well-known French ski coach and technician passed away. A controversial figure, he was mostly remembered for “firing” the French ski team in 1973. Alain Lazard, a good friend of mine is writing a story about this incident and has asked me to provide him with some input. Here it is...

It's totally true that back in these days, there was a rift between ski folks raised in the mountains and their urban skiing counterparts, generally more talkative, assertive and a bit more educated. The formers were mostly simple and practical, very to close to nature and tight-lipped. The later wanted to change the world in their own way, shed some enlightenment, show their value and, that way, be finally accepted by the “mountain people.” Jean Vuarnet, Joubert's long-time sidekick was a hybrid as he was partially raised in Morzine, my former stomping ground, but was never fully embraced by the local population that remained suspicious about his “education” and it's only recently that Morzine recognized him when this became a practical promotional opportunity.

Again the “mountaineers” didn't discuss the precepts of the ENSA (École Nationale de Ski et d'Alpinisme,) they religiously applied the principles they were taught and accepted the dogma pushed on to them. Joubert, on the other hand, was too iconoclastic to be accepted by that group, was left out of the tent and only could throw barbs at what was in France the equivalent of the Vatican to the religion of skiing. Of course, it's too bad that the ENSA failed to engage Joubert; skiing as a whole might have all been much richer for it... Joubert, a keen observer of top skiers, began to write books and bring some theory into a world that had remained quite dogmatic, not just in France, but also in Austria, another highly influential ski culture.

There were some good insights in his analysis based on the observation of champions of the time, but there were also some disconnect. The ever evolving equipment was one of them and another was a teaching method that was lacking a lot and remained spotty compared to the ENSA's little booklet, called “memento du ski Français.” In my opinion, Joubert was onto something, but he never dug far enough to totally unearth a seamless method that could be whole. In that aspect, I still think Joubert contributed a lot, brought a much needed alternative viewpoint but that still fell short of being the “definitive one.” I also know that Joubert was instrumental behind the equipment tests published by the french “Ski” magazine, but don't know the contents and methodology behind them to voice any opinion.

As far as the Val d'Isère events were concerned, like most of those who still debate the decision to fire the entire French squad, I wasn't in the room when Joubert, Vuarnet (his associate,) Martel (the president of the federation) and Mazeaud (the sport minister) announced they would throw the baby and the bathwater. The question remain who tipped the scale? Was it a shared consensus between the four participants, did only one, two or three pulled the trigger, we may never know, but suffice to say that it was a knee-jerk reaction that was the by product of frustration on the part of the two coaches who were dealing with highly opinionated athletes to whom they had failed to “sell” their approach to training. Another great lesson in hasty and irrevocable decisions.

One thing is certain, Georges Joubert wasn't alone in that decision-making process. Also, it's helpful to remember that prior to that assignment Jean Vuarnet had worked in some similar, albeit limited advising capacity, with the Italian “Squadra Azzurra” that was becoming the winning national ski team in the early seventies. I think that in fact, Vuarnet helped more organizing the Italian ski pool than telling Gros, Stricker and Thoeni where they should plant their poles.
This said, I believe that the decision to beheading the entire team was made too quickly, was too strong a medicine and did handicap the French team for decades, if not till these days. The group of four should have preferred suspending of some of the athletes, but I guess today, there's no point in replacing the toothpaste back into the tube... At least that's my two-cent.

1 comment:

William said...

Not sure it was the wrong decision. When you don't have a team, you have nothing, so lets clean up and start again. Even if it was the wrong decision, the effects would have washed up in two seasons and I think it may be unfair to trace the performance of the French team these past 40 years to that action.
I just wish this would have happened this year with the French national soccer team (not that I really care). ;)