SAUT À SKI – Since 2011, Nordic Magazine has published a long portrait of an athlete in each of its issues. Each time, it is an opportunity to get to know the person whose exploits are admired. Find here the article that evoked, in December 2014, Vincent Descombes-Sevoie.
Vincent Descombes-Sevoie is a jumper who, as soon as he can, takes to the skies. In flight, it escapes the world around it. Although her escape calls for a field, she is short-lived and parades at high speed through her grey-green eyes. But it is indispensable to him, vital even, as oxygen can be for any human being.
To understand, it is necessary, as often, to go back to childhood. “I was always glued to my parents’ sneakers,” says the 31-year-old, who turns 31 in January. His mother did not forget this time: “On Sunday afternoon, he was already beginning to cry just at the thought, the next day, of leaving us. Everything scared him. No, really, he didn’t like school.” A phobia that his parents will try to cure through sport.
In this family of craftsmen – the father is a plumber – ski jumping is not a given. Except that the big brother, a bit of a kamikaze, already plays in the local club of The Houches, in Haute-Savoie. His presence reassures his youngest who, at the same time, finds himself loving this new universe that he discovers. “I was learning to manage events better.” In 1989, he was not six years old when he went by bus to Paris to jump on the springboard that was then installed in the Parc de la Courneuve: “For me, it was a real expedition. I remember before you jumped, you could see the Eiffel Tower.”
The coach’s name is James Yerly. “He was the smallest of the group. He had good results right away. At the national level, he was in the best. Already, he liked to win,” recalls the man who accompanied him for many years, before Pierre Bailly and many others took over. “He guided me with the right words, the right gestures,” thanks the athlete who, from time to time, visits him. “He’s still giving me advice,” he adds. “He knows what he has to do,” smiles the man.
He witnessed the chrysalis metamorphosis into a butterfly and the first flight of the butterfly. “I loved going to the fight. The jump unlocked the padlock that had been in me for years,” admits the current leader of the French special jump team.
François Braud, a member of the French Nordic combined team, knew him at the time: “We spent a lot of time together,” recalls the Chamoniard. I was going to his house: either we would take a springboard in his garden, jump until the end of the night and even forget to eat, or we would watch videos of looping until we knew by heart each jumper of the World Cup.”
On the Mont Blanc committee, he rubbed shoulders with Kevin Arnould, Ludovic Roux, “almost idols”, did internships in Chaux-Neuve, Haut-Doubs, and even abroad. Vincent Descombes-Sevoie has found his way. One day, he goes to Planica, Slovenia. As a spectator, with the chamoniard fans and his family. At the foot of the springboard, he looks at his mother Patricia, and says, “One day I’ll come and jump there.”
At the age of 14, he joined the French Nordic combined team. “With Vincent, we know each other well,” says Sébastien Lacroix, “because he is one year younger than me. He made the handset until 2003 I think and we were often in the room together at that time.” From that time, the Jurassien keeps in mind a funny story: “In 2003, at the world junior championships I mistakenly put my name in his suit when he is much smaller than me [1.73 m versus 1.90 m, ed.]. Fortunately, he realized that before I tried to get into it. He’s got me with that a lot.”
“For me, things were starting to get serious,” the tricolour jumper continues. The courses are spiced with Fabrice Guy/Sylvain Guillaume sauce: wake-up, fasting, breakfast, jumping, bodybuilding… “But I was stagnating in cross-country skiing,” he admits. After two-three difficult years, he changed his discipline: he joined the beautiful French jumping team, alongside Emmanuel Chedal, David Lazzaroni, Nicolas Dessum, Pierre-Emmanuel Robe, Damien Maître and Benjamin Bourqui. However, due to a lack of results, it did not qualify for the 2006 Olympic Games in Turin.
The atmosphere is not at the party and Vincent Descombes-Sevoie isolates himself. “It wasn’t a group where I felt good,” he says. “When it doesn’t work out the way he wants it to, he gets a lot bit bit angry and gets a little bit close to himself. It’s a bit of a shame because in those moments, you may need to evacuate thinking about something else,” observes Sébastien Lacroix.
Until the late 2000s, Vincent Descombes-Sevoie wanted to prove to his teammates that he was not an exiled handset, but a jumper. A real one. To gain his status, he will clench his teeth and fists, then put his work back on the job a thousand times. “He’s a hard worker,” says Sébastien Lacroix. He’s always given himself 200% to perform, especially since the transition from the handset to the jump is far from obvious.” “I had to be in front,” he says. In front of Emmanuel Chedal, the number one, with whom he has no affinity and whose contract he takes over with Customs in 2007.
The year 2010 will serve as a trigger: Vancouver Olympics, two top 15 World Cups in Kuopio and Lillehammer, the first crossing of the 200 m. “I’m in the real world”, is surprised to think then the Haut-Savoyard who now lives only for the jump. He will no longer let his guard down. “He’s so passionate,” says Lauranne, his Jurassic wife with whom, in 2012, he had a baby boy, Louison. Even when he’s with us, his sporting career is his priority. Our lives are settled in relation to that.” She continues: “He loves us, we know that. We support him.”
A priesthood? “It’s my life,” replies Vincent Descombes-Sevoie. “He’s mostly a great dad who has fun with his little Louison, who’s having a laugh,” Braud said. “The birth of Louison has done him a lot of good, I think, and he is a happy and proud father of his son,” said Sébastien Lacroix.
The athlete is not just a ski jumper. He also jumps hedges, obstacles that are all blows given on his shell. In 2013, his exasperation was too strong during the Tour des Quatre Tremplins, a highlight of the winter for this discipline that succeeds to the loners. His anger is found in the columns of The Team. Above all, a strong sense of injustice. “I explained things [mainly the lack of resources, the absence of a farter, dietician and physical trainer in the French team,] that didn’t please many people.”
Less than a year later, he learns that he will not go to Sochi, only Ronan Lamy-Chappuis will be on the Olympic trip to Russia. “I got confirmation of this by a text message from Marie-Laure Brunet who was supporting me. I was in transit at an airport.” Pudique, he says he was “disappointed” but did not think to stop, to throw his skis in the gutter, to turn the page. “I thought about my family and the people who supported me.” He had his suits,” Lauranne recalls.
Her husband’s reaction impresses him: “He was very strong. I admire him. He really managed to bounce back.” Especially since he’s not done with the uppercuts. “I’ve only done it my own way,” he concedes. Instead of the Olympics, Vincent Descombes-Sevoie must fly to the United States where the continental cup is contested. Except that his passport is no longer valid. “He took a blow to the head,” regrets Gérard Colin, his current coach, who is living this new event with him. He then reads more than dismay in the wet eyes of his athlete. In March, finally, he lost his title of French champion by a hair: “Ski jumping is details.”
“After Sochi, it was hard,” says the coach, who has tried to restore his confidence. “It was a bit complicated last season,” says Ronan Lamy-Chappuis. Vincent shut up. I had a hard time getting to him, I didn’t know how to react.” Since then, the pair has re-established themselves and, “during the summer, Vincent has progressed. He now knows what he’s worth. He has no doubt when he leaves the bar,” observes Gérard Colin, satisfied with his “small family.”
Vincent Descombes-Sevoie’s lack of recognition. “I hope he gets it. I believe in it. I absolutely want him to get a result, something significant, to feel like he’s one of the best in the world.” “His strength is his professionalism and, in jumping, the way he flies.” His weakness? In my opinion, he is still too nervous in competitions,” said Austrian Robert Treitinger, the tricolour team’s physical trainer. “He knows what he’s worth and until he realizes his dreams, he’ll redouble his effort until he gets there,” adds Chamoniard handset Geoffrey Lafarge.
Today, Vincent Descombes-Sevoie says he’s in his head. “He’s more motivated than ever,” says Lauranne. “I was able to get up. It’s winter where anything is possible,” he smiles. He wants top 10s. And lots of other things. “Now I’m playing the winner.” Everywhere. All the time. Watch out for his mood when he is not satisfied with his jumps, regardless of the role the elements will have played.
When on February 24, 2012, during the first round of the world championships in Vikersund (Norway), he broke the French record with a jump of 225 meters, his wife Lauranne was pregnant. The family has just purchased a cottage, with an extra room. From there to see a happy omen …