Joséphine Pagnier, the present and future of French ski jumping
This winter season, the one top-level ski jumper to watch out for in the French women’s team is 17-year-old Joséphine Pagnier. The World Cup, plus the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) Lausanne 2020 in January – with the ski jumping competitions on home soil in Prémanon – are on the horizon. Here, we speak to the young champion and Damien Maitre, the head coach of the women’s group.
Damien, can you describe Joséphine’s qualities for us?
Joséphine has real technical qualities, and an ability to really soar through the air. She’s very strong mentally and knows how to be competitive. She has a ski jumper’s build; she’s absolutely made for this sport. What has really allowed her to emerge this season is her ability to take matters in hand and master what she’s doing. Despite her young age, she is front and centre of what she’s trying to achieve; she’s understood that she is the key to it all, so doesn’t wait for other people but just gets on with it. She has given herself the tools to succeed. That’s what’s making all the difference at the moment.
Joséphine, is it fair to say you grew up at the foot of the Chaux-Neuve ski jump?
Yes. I lived a kilometre away, in Chaux-Neuve village, and my dad was in charge of the ski jumping venue, so I was there really often. I can’t even remember the first time I went, or the first time I jumped. I started out doing cross-country skiing and Alpine skiing, and properly took up ski jumping when I was around seven or eight. It became a passion straight away. At the beginning, when you’re young, it’s fun to keep going back up again and again; it’s enjoyable and there’s a really great atmosphere.
How do you see your sports career developing?
I’m planning to go as far as I can, and have fun in the process. I won some Alpen Cup events in 2017, but the best moment of my young career was taking part in my first World Cup in the 2018-2019 winter season. You gain so much more experience when you get to the very top level. That’s what excites me in fact: competing in World Cups, World Championships and the Olympic Winter Games.
And now here you are ready to compete in the YOG Lausanne 2020!
The YOG are an important step in my career, and I’ll be able to gain even more experience. Taking part in such a major event is going to be amazing. It’s great that the competitions are being held in Prémanon; I’m lucky enough to live 45 minutes away from the venue. But whether the events are taking place in Prémanon or elsewhere, these are the YOG, and that’s really cool in itself. I’ve trained several times on the ski jump in Les Tuffes, it’s brilliant. I would say though that just because the ski jumping hill is good, it doesn’t mean you’re going to perform well. The results depend on us, not the hill!
Damien, how do you prepare your athlete?
Our approach is not just about Lausanne 2020; it’s focused on the long term. Josephine, who’s currently our best athlete, is aiming to have a successful career. The YOG will be a step in this process, an experience. Whether it’s a World Cup or a one-day event, our obsession is giving athletes the means to deliver, rather than the results; it’s about putting them in a position to perform well. I don’t know all the girls who will be there, but one of the participants will be the world junior champion, Anna Shpyneva from Russia. The level will be high, we’re aware of that. Instead of focusing on the level of others and how Joséphine’s performances match up, we prefer to concentrate on what we need to do and how we can go about doing it. The goal for the YOG is to do everything possible to create an environment in which she can give the best of herself, and, even more importantly, in which she can learn, so that she can take something from the experience.
Joséphine, what are you expecting from your participation at the YOG 2020?
I’m 17 now, and my ambition is to have a long career and get some big results. Lausanne 2020 is a step for me; my whole life won’t be decided there. I’m expecting a fantastic atmosphere; I can’t wait to see how everything will be organised. The [Youth] Olympic Village, for example, will be completely new for me. As for my results, they’ll depend on how much I enjoy myself. If I do that, the results will follow.
And Damien, what are your expectations?
I’m currently head coach of the women’s group for the World Cup, but before that I was in charge of the young athletes. I went to the YOG in Innsbruck in 2012 and Lillehammer in 2016. I saw medal-winning athletes who have not necessarily performed that well since then. On the other hand, there were others who didn’t finish on the podium but who have gone on to make names for themselves at the highest level. And then there are medallists who have continued to succeed at a higher level. To be honest, the most important thing is how you approach the event and what you take from it. Whatever happens, you need to learn from the experience to keep pushing on. In preparing the athletes, our task is to give them the tools to be the best they can be. It’s going to be a fantastic experience for Joséphine.
With the work she’s doing, she can already start looking ahead to the Beijing 2022 Winter Games; and having this experience two years beforehand, with an event like the YOG, is an amazing opportunity, and one that she has to seize. The Village, the Olympic rules, the pressure… These are things that happen only at the Games. So she needs to put herself in a position where she can perform as well as she can and, above all, learn, with one eye on 2022 or even 2026, because she’s still very young!