Extreme sports such as skiing and snowboarding are not common activities for most people living in the UK, however for those living in Europe, home to several mountain ranges, winter sports are much more accessible. The Winter Olympics earlier this year showcased those who excel in such sports with France going home with a good haul of medals. One of those who triumphed in the Moguls skiing, earning herself and France a gold medal was Perrine Laffont. At only 19 years old, she became the first woman from her country to win the event. I spoke to her about her career and why she’s aiming for a ‘grand slam’.
Having always been interested in sport, and with both her brother and father being involved in skiing, Perrine began participating at a young age. “I started skiing with alpine and freestyle at the same time. I followed in the footsteps of my Dad and brother. They were both mogul skiers and now coaches,” she told me. The moguls are known for their fast pace and technical courses, with it being categorised as freestyle, participants complete timed runs down a slope consisting of many bumps and dips. Although her family had been involved in this particular type of skiing, that didn’t mean Laffont wasn’t wary. “A mogul course is a very scary thing. But you learn to control your fear and even use it in a positive way to make yourself more alert and concentrated to perform better. I love the adrenaline that comes along with skiing fast in the bumps and then hitting the 2 jumps in the course,” Perrine explained.
Having started in the sport young, Laffont began competing at the age of 7. “The first time I took part in a competition, my parents had signed me up, but the bumps were bigger than me,” she said. Though this didn’t discourage her, as she has continued to race competitively ever since. Despite her considerable success, she had never considered that skiing could be anything more than a hobby with her saying: “you never really think about it, you just follow along trying to do your best every time. Even now I just jump in the team bus and I’m just happy about going skiing.”
With an increasing number of victories, in 2014, Perrine was selected to represent France at the Sochi Winter Olympics. She was only 15 at the time and so her and her family hadn’t anticipated the Frenchwoman would be competing on such a level so soon. “It all happened really quickly, you only find out that you are officially selected 2 weeks before the event. My family started frantically organising a last-minute trip to Russia,” Laffont explained. In her first Olympics, Perrine managed to reach the finals in her event, and admits it was extremely unexpected. “I had just begun World Cup (racing) that season,” she said, “reaching the final was an amazing achievement for me at that age. To perform on the biggest stage: the Olympic Games, at 15 years old, set me up nicely for the rest of my career.”
In the same year, Perrine was crowned Moguls Rookie of the Year which was a huge moment for her. “It’s super cool to win something like that,” she said of her achievement, but she still has her sights set high with a list of accolades she would like to accomplish. “It’s (Rookie of the Year) the first taste of a ‘Crystal Globe’. Now it is part of my goal to achieve the ‘Grand Chelem’ (grand slam) in mogul skiing, World Championship Gold (single and dual), Overall Crystal Globe and Olympic Gold,” she told me. The Crystal Globe is awarded to the overall best moguls skier. Having won ‘Rookie of the Year’, Perrine is keen to win the overall trophy crowning her the best moguls skier in the world.
Travelling and racing at such a young age meant Perrine missed a lot of time at school and in the past has struggled to balance her education and sport. “Because skiers travel so much it’s hard to find a school that will adapt the timetable to our needs. I am lucky to be in a school this year where I only have lessons in the spring so the rest of the year I can concentrate on skiing. I thinks it’s important; I love school,” Laffont exclaimed.
Earlier this year, Perrine competed in the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea. Following her 14th place finish in the previous Olympics 4 years before, she was aiming to again reach the finals, and improve on her finishing position. Between the 2 events, she had experienced a fair amount of success, and so was hoping that her chances of a medal would be significantly higher. In the qualification round, Laffont was the highest scorer, and so she admits she went in feeling confident, saying: “I managed to win the qualification so I was definitely heading into the finals looking for the gold medal.” When it did come to the final it was extremely close with the top 3 scoring within 1.25 points of each other, but fortunately it was Perrine who came out on top, beating the favourite Justine Dufour-Lapointe by only 0.09 points. “I couldn’t believe it! Those things take time to sink in. It was a long hard day with lots of rounds of competition,” she described, but ultimately all the hard work was worth it to get her hands on the gold medal.
Since the Winter Olympics, Laffont’s victory has allowed her to become an ambassador for the sport she loves, and in particular, her event the moguls. “My following has increased so much. I just think it’s great to share mogul skiing with sports fans worldwide. The more people interested in mogul skiing the better, and if I can help with that, well, that’s amazing,” Perrine explained. Having won 1 Olympic gold medal, Laffont is aiming to replicate her success, however first there are many competitions she must achieve in, in order to be prepared for the Beijing Games in 2022. “My plan is to keep going at the same pace: living my life to the fullest! Next Olympics are now in 4 years, between now and then I have World Cup circuits and World Championships every 2 years,” Perrine told me.
Perrine Laffont went into this year’s Winter Olympics with hopes of medal and as one of the favourites. Confident in her skills, the Frenchwoman topped both qualifying and the event itself. Sport has played a huge part in her life and her advice for others wanting to pursue a career in the industry would be: “go for it! The beauty of sport is that it knocks down barriers between all cultures and languages. There are so many sports out there you will definitely find the right one for you. When you are young do as many as possible to progress.” At only 19 years old, there is plenty of time for Laffont to practice and hone her craft and this will allow her to perform to her best when it comes to crucial events such as World Cups and Olympics. But as she has said, there is no doubt in her mind where she wants to be in 4 years’ time, and that’s on top of the podium.
(heading photo credit: Nice Matin)