A lot of athletes, if you ask them how long they’ve been working towards the Olympics, might say their whole lives. Or, if they’re veterans or barely missed the cut last time around, they might say the last four years.
For Jean Philippe Le Guellec, 2014 will really be the culmination of something special: four years ago in Vancouver, where the Canadian biathlete placed sixth in the sprint, he decided that he would keep competing until Sochi, and that’s it.
More than three quarters of the way there, Le Guellec is still near the top of his sport – he won his first World Cup race last season – and is sticking to his plan even though his recent success could easily have enticed someone else to keep racing.
“I’ll be starting a family, for one, and then going back to studying for two, and then seeing how that develops,” he said in an interview last week. “I don’t have any concrete plans for now. I’m looking to study in business administration at university and hopefully a little background graphic designing as well. Hopefully a line of work within these two parameters.”
Having known for four years that this would be it does add a bit of motivation, and it’s making the upcoming season even more exciting and meaningful for the Quebec-based athlete.
“Knowing the end is approaching especially allows me to indulge and appreciate every aspect of the training/racing life I’ll be experiencing this year,” he later wrote in an e-mail. “I find pretty cool how much I’ve evolved as an athlete even over the last two years (definitely hugely since 2010).”
With all that in mind, Le Guellec has made major changes this year to improve himself as a biathlete. It began with a two-week camp in Canmore with Swedish skier and technical coach Peter Larsson.
“We were just looking at video from how I was skiing just a year ago at World Championships in the Czech Republic, and there’s a pretty drastic change,” Le Guellec reports. “We’ve pretty much tried to go here and there to better our preparation. It’s refreshing, and it’s motivating in general to be training this year with all these changes.”
He’s also shifted some aspects of his shooting and increased his focus on his strength program. And After the spring camp with Larsson, Le Guellec also headed to Canmore in July, where he came out on top in the team’s annual multi-discipline “testival” (Rosanna Crawford won the women’s rankings).
Right now, he’s in Ramsau, Austria, skiing on the glacier with the men’s “A” team: Brendan Green and Scott Gow. Scott Perras was supposed to attend as well, but as he recently wrote on his FasterSkier blog, he has been struggling with form and needs to rest and carefully manage his training.
“It’s the smallest team ever,” Le Guellec said.
But that doesn’t mean it’s not a good one. It’s not just Le Guellec who has made changes: the whole squad, he says, is faster and stronger than before and making significant changes. Look for a different Canada next season, not the one that seemed to fizzle as the 2013 season drew to a close.
“I’ll be really curious to see how it goes this year,” Le Guellec said. “Guys are getting really strong and it won’t be a one-man show this winter. With Brendan back on full throttle and Scott Gow, who shows a lot of potential and Scott Perras had some good results last year too, I think the men’s team will be doing really well this winter.”
On the Dachstein glacier, the three men mostly train separately, navigating the trains of hundreds of skiers. It’s tough enough to ski at the right level on your own, without having to match paces with a teammate.
“If you manage to squeeze in in between packs, then you can do your own thing,” Le Guellec explained. “But sometimes you get caught up and that gets annoying because you have to wait for the proper time to be able to pass. Everyone is going super slow and you can’t just outright sprint, because then you’ll blow up.”
Why might that be? The Dachstein sits at 2700 meters above sea level, or almost 9,000 feet. The town of Ramsau itself is at just 3,300 feet, so the team avails itself of a local biathlon facility for afternoon training. There, the trio of Canadians can actually train together, with a lot of attention from the coaching staff.
When the team arrived, the glacier was perfect, Le Guellec said. Sparking, sunny, with mid-January-like conditions. Then, the trademark fall rain set in. While it was never too soggy or foggy to head up the mountain, things got a little less enjoyable.
“Now the glacier is still white, which is fun, but the conditions are a lot softer and a lot slower,” Le Guellec said.
While Le Guellec is working on his improved technique on-snow, more motivated than ever, and enjoying the glacier time, this might be a good reminder of why he’s hanging up the skis. He has been a full-time senior athlete since 2005, which adds up to a lot of flights across the ocean and time away from family.
“It’s especially hard being from North America, I guess,” Le Guellec said. “Being European would be different.”
While Le Guellec makes a habit of being honest in his interviews, that doesn’t mean that he gets stuck dwelling on the downsides of his profession. This year he will go fast, have fun, and that will be that: one last hurrah.
“It’s pretty sweet to be able to think I’ll be able to retire on a high, a better athlete, and knowing my coach and I will have turned new stones to get better,” he wrote in an e-mail. “In the words of James Hetfield: ‘No remorse, no regrets!’”
Chelsea Little is FasterSkier's Editor-At-Large. A former racer at Ford Sayre, Dartmouth College and the Craftsbury Green Racing Project, she is a PhD candidate in aquatic ecology in the @Altermatt_lab at Eawag, the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology in Zurich, Switzerland. You can follow her on twitter @ChelskiLittle.