Note: After some miscommunications based on bad email addresses, we got in touch with Jean Paquet. We’ve apologized for the problems which prevented us from including his comments in our original story about the closure of Biathlon Canada’s Eastern National Team Center in Valcartier, which you can find here.
With Biathlon Canada’s closure of its national-team center in Valcartier, Québec, Jean Paquet’s position as a national-team coach was eliminated. The 1992 Olympian had worked with top biathlete Jean Philippe Le Guellec since 2007, but said that he saw the writing on the wall that his job wasn’t going to exist after the 2014 Olympics.
“They have been wanting to centralize in Canmore for quite a while,” Paquet said in an interview regarding Biathlon Canada. “Actually I can recall for at least five years they were working hard to centralize and bring Jean Philippe to Canmore. Every year from that time, I had to go a meeting in Calgary with Own the Podium [OTP] and Biathlon Canada to explain why it was good to keep Jean Philippe in Québec, because he didn’t want to move. I had to justify it every year.”
Much like Alex Harvey in cross-country skiing, Le Guellec was in more of a position to make those demands than others might have been. He turned in Canada’s best Olympic peformance by a male biathlete in 2010, finishing sixth in the sprint, and also became the first Canadian man to qualify for an Olympic mass start. In December 2012, he also became the first Canadian man to win a World Cup competition.
Le Guellec confirmed as much in an earlier email to FasterSkier, stating that he had insisted on staying in Québec, where he had bought a house with his (then-future) wife.
“So I knew that when Jean Philippe was done in 2014 that it would be impossible for me to justify it, even if Audrey Vaillancourt kept going I knew it would be impossible to keep the center, and to keep a coach here,” Paquet said.
A provincial team will still run out of Valcartier, coached by Martin Tremblay. Vaillancourt will train with that group when she is not in Canmore with the national team.
Paquet explained that he had still hoped to have a role with the organization, albeit in a different position. Le Guellec achieved finishes of fifth and 10th at the Games, which no doubt contributed to Paquet feeling that he was qualified.
“Chris [Lindsay, Biathlon Canada’s High Performance Director] told me at the Games that there could be a job opening in Canmore, for the second coach,” Paquet said. “I knew that they were going to keep only two coaches and that my position was eliminated. So I knew that. But I thought that there would be an opening in Canmore and that I could have the opportunity, if I wanted to, to apply for it.”
As of this spring, Biathlon Canada is only planning to have two coaches (Lindsay wrote in an email that OTP may grant them funding for a third coach; the OTP budget for biathlon will be revealed this summer). Current head coach Matthias Ahrens would retain his position. Paquet thought he could at least apply for the second position.
But in reality, current assistant coach Roddy Ward would be keeping that role.
“When I came back from the Games, a couple of days later Chris invited me to a year-end meeting in Canmore,” Paquet said. “I thought we were going to discuss something about the plans, but when I looked I realized that I was not in the plan. At all. So there was no future for me in the organization. That’s when I found out, when I realized, okay, what are the other options?”
Unemployment aside – Paquet said that after a grueling Olympic season, he needed a break and only just began looking for jobs – he is troubled by Biathlon Canada and OTP’s vision of centralization in Canmore. He thought it was a mistake to close the Valcartier national team center.
“If you don’t have that in the East, you know it takes a lot from the people from the East part to move to Canmore,” he said. “It takes a lot of money and a lot of effort. Québec is a great place for [finding talent]. It is a city of 750,000 people and it’s a great city to have training stuff there. I think that they are losing a big opportunity there…. Canmore, don’t get me wrong, it’s a good center and they have invested a lot in it. It’s a great center. But I think it would be good to have two centers.”
Paquet acknowledges that currently, Québec has few top senior biathletes. Only Vaillancourt met the national-team criteria this year, which was part of Biathlon Canada’s justification for closing the Valcartier training center: it didn’t make sense to have a training group of just one athlete.
“For sure, if you look now we are in a downturn,” Paquet said. “We only have Audrey and the other athletes are quite young. So there is a lot of time to go before we get a team or some other good athletes.”
But among other things, he said, having a national team coach to scout out talent is a big plus. And due to the cultural differences between Québec and English-speaking Canada, as well as the sheer distance between Valcartier and Canmore, retaining that talent might be more difficult in a fully centralized system.
“You know, Jean Philippe came from a program that went forward eight or nine years ago with Daniel LeFebvre, who went to recruit athletes,” Paquet said. “We got Jean Philippe from that initiative that was taken years ago. So you need to take some initiative, you need to turn some rocks … You are going to lose a lot of athletes along the way who would have been great potential. There won’t be the possibility to uncover them.”
However, Biathlon Canada has been pushing the centralization strategy for several years, as Paquet had previously explained. He described the interactions at the end of the season as not open to any possibility of maintaining the Québec center.
“It’s not, can we work something out, it’s not can we find some partnership,” he said. “For example when I was hired in the beginning, there was a partnership between Biathlon Québec and Biathlon Canada, they paid half and half and then we worked on the project with some other people. This is a thing that maybe could have been talked about. But there was absolutely no willingness to even talk about this.”
Although Biathlon Canada staff like Lindsay and Ahrens discussed the hope that Paquet might continue working with them on a contract basis for World Cup and IBU Cup tours this winter, Paquet seems to consider his relationship with the national team over. Looking back, he said he can be happy with the past, even if his future is uncertain.
“I’m really happy with the work these last few years,” he said. “I feel really blessed to be able to work with an athlete like Jean Philippe. He was honest, and faithful – he never looked anywhere else, he never questioned about the training. We always did it together. For me it was not a dictatorship, it was all about getting him on board and about discussion. I thought that was the only way to get him to buy into it, and it showed that it worked … I have 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.