by Sofia Gerace
Former athlete for the French national skiing team, Chloé Blyth talks to The Beaver about her incredible sporting experience. Two gold medals, five titles in total at the world championships, and she is now about to graduate from the PPE programme at LSE. “I retired two years ago but I hope my story is still interesting,” she says humbly. But the challenge of winning a world championship is definitely not an everyday story…
Can you tell me about your sporting experience?
I grew up in Chamonix, and there you have the chance to choose amongst many different snow sports. My father does telemark skiing and I decided to follow in his footsteps – I loved it. It’s a mix between Nordic and alpine skiing. Instead of having your heel attached to the ski, it’s lifted. I started in the youth category, and then made it to the French senior team when I was 15, representing the team for five years. I won five gold medals at world championships over three years. I come from a school where there was a big emphasis on sports, but I decided to come to study at LSE because I really wanted to do something academic and study in the UK. I retired two years ago, but I still do a lot of skiing.
What is your best memory as a professional skier?
When I was 17, I took part in the junior world championship. I hadn’t been part of the team for that long and I was amongst the youngest skiers in my category at the championship, but I won two gold medals that weekend. I was the youngest ever athlete to achieve this. I was the underdog, and I did not expect to win – it was special. Also, I had a severe training accident only three years before and I was hospitalised for a long time. So, to be able to make it to the French team and to win two gold medals on that occasion was really special. The same year I also did very well in school. Those months were amazing.
Would you consider your two gold medals as your greatest achievement?
It was definitely a great achievement, but I must say that what is special about achievements are the lessons that you learn from them. Gold medals are very pretty but achievements are also about what you achieve for yourself and the way it shapes you. Sport taught me to handle mental stress and to fight for achievements. It also taught me how to handle failures. Of course, I don’t particularly like failures because I am competitive, but it isn’t a big fear of mine because I know that this wouldn’t define me. I can accept the ups and downs and I don’t think I would be the same if I didn’t have my sport experience teaching me mental resilience, and I am grateful for that.
Did your family and teammates approve of your decision to come to London?
Well, in my team, I was the only one studying at university. The others would do other types of qualifications or apprenticeships while I decided to opt for foreign universities. I guess some people would criticise me because I was being different – I was putting a lot of energy into my academic studies while training and it was not easy. However, I still did extremely well at skiing and eventually everyone recognised that.
What would your classmates say when you mentioned that you were a world champion?
I am not the kind of person to bring this up as a topic of conversation but eventually it would come up when I mentioned that I come from the French Alps! They considered it cool, especially because skiing is not very common, and my experience was quite unique. I think my friends always found it interesting since there aren’t many elite athletes at LSE. Excellence in sport also made me feel on par with people who perhaps come from different backgrounds from me. I felt integrated at LSE. I know that I came from a normal background, but I also achieved something impressive in my life.
How did you manage to balance studying and training?
In my first year, I had to fly to France, Slovenia, and Switzerland for training and races. Sometimes I was having to do exams, interviews, and training camps all in one week, and that was a lot. I was able to do it for two years, and then I decided to focus on my studies. It is difficult to perform well in academia while having important sport commitments, especially since LSE is a very challenging environment, academically speaking. I used to train at the LSE gym, but for skiing, training on the land is not enough, you need to be on the mountains, and the first year of university is not easy for anyone. Looking back at it now, I think I may have been overstressed for nothing, but I think it was very normal to feel like that at that moment.
Quitting must have been difficult…
It was not easy at first: sport is such a big part of your identity. There are things about high-level sports that you cannot find anywhere else in life. There is something special about it and I do miss that. But then COVID hit, and I did not have to think about it too much. I was home in France and the rest is history. It is difficult but it’s a choice that I made to come here. And it will turn out to be a good one. I will be able to go back to sports in other ways. I am now enjoying my time at university, working hard every day but also loving the social aspect. I still go back to Chamonix for holidays, and I ski with my family and friends, but my life is not there anymore. My professional life is going to be here.
Telemark is still not going to be at the next Winter Olympics in Beijing…
I remember that when I was still training, we were pushing towards the inclusion of telemark at the Beijing Olympic Games, but it did not work out in the end. Telemark does not have much funding, and the Olympic inclusion would definitely give it some visibility. Telemark is a beautiful sport and I believe that people would love to watch it. However, I also must say that there is a special spirit in the Telemark community. It’s a very friendly environment and we are like a family. If the Olympic Games include Telemark in the future, I hope that this would not change its special character!