At X Games Tignes 2013 last month, France's Marie Martinod, 28, surprised everyone when she beat competitors like Roz Groenewoud and Maddie Bowman for Women's Ski SuperPipe gold. The last time Martinod had made an appearance at X Games was back in 2006. At the time, she was at the top of her game, a pioneer in her sport and trotting the globe as a professional skier. But then, in April 2007, the enigmatic Frenchwoman disappeared from the contest scene. Where did she go and why did she come back? We found out.
Why did you stop competing? What happened?
I fell in love with a man that was totally out of the ski industry and decided to follow him. He had already signed his working contract for the summer season and was going to leave La Plagne, and I wouldn't have seen him again. So I just said, 'OK, I quit skiing, and I follow you!' That's exactly what I did. I called my sponsors and told them one by one that skiing was over for me. I felt like skiing had taught me a lot. It taught me a lot about life, it taught me how to reach a goal, how to dominate your fear, but it was time for me to experiment with something new. Then I gave birth to my daughter Mélirose in 2009 and that changed everything.
What made you decide to come back to the sport?
At first, Virginie Faivre called me, and she said, 'IOC is talking about integrating skiing halfpipe in the Olympics.' Then, she and Sarah Burke passed by my place on their way home from X Games Tignes in 2011. Sarah told me I had to take a chance and come back. Then, I had a bad car crash and which left my left hand destroyed. I spent four months in a rehab center and decided that life is too short to not make things happen.
The next winter I registered for the SFR series because it was very close to my place, and I could still work at the bar I was owning with my love and make the contest quite easily. It was just for fun, just to see if I had pleasure skiing, competing, wearing a bib. Luckily, I won those two contests. It was a good beginning, but everything was still to be done -- sell the bar, find sponsors to support me, fix everything with my man and my daughter and get back to a good physical state.
What influence did Sarah Burke have on your comeback?
After nine days of hope, nine days of calling Virginie to know if she had any good news from Utah, she finally said, "It's finished, Marie." Sarah passed away ... This has been a tsunami -- nothing to say, nothing to understand, nothing to explain, nothing to compare with, nothing to do. I went through a "nothing land" for some days, until I tried to imagine what she would be proud of, what she would tell me if she could be right next to me. And after all, what were her last words for me? "You should come back." Ok, I decided I would keep doing it. This "nothing" I've been going through by her loss switched to -- nothing is going to stop me.
What sacrifices did you have to make to return to halfpipe skiing?
I spent the next nine months working at the bar at night, working with my physical coach during the day. It's been tough. But I don't feel like I've had to sacrifice, I just followed my instinct like I always used to.
It's been seven years since you competed at X Games. What were some of the biggest differences you noticed about X Games this year compared to 2006?
No big differences except it's hard to get into the top eight because there are a lot more girls riding now, which is great news.
What went through your mind when you were going to drop into the pipe in Tignes?
'Enjoy, Marie, enjoy!' My coach Greg [Guenet] was saying, 'Can you hear those people shouting at the bottom just for you?' I wanted to ski the best I could, no matter what would have been the result.
The French have such a strong national halfpipe team. How have they supported you as you've made your comeback?
At X Games last year, after a training session, Greg Guenet told me he believed in me and he would help me. He started by taking me with his guys to the water jump last summer, and this fall they took me with them to Colorado. I've been skiing with them always. They pushed me, they gave me confidence, they helped me in every way they could. I will always remember how nice they've been to me.
What kind of tricks were you throwing in the pipe in 2006 compared to your run in 2013?
Back in time I wasn't able to spin both ways. I had to work hard to get this unnatural 540 that is my second hit. It must be perfect to keep speed for the rest of the run. I wasn't able to put all those tricks next to each other in 2006. And of course the pipe is bigger now than before so you have to ride faster if you want to have some good air. And a detail that counts a lot for me, I am now able to grab all my tricks.
You are skiing better now than you did back then. What has made the difference?
I would say the experience and the maturity. I don't want to miss anything. I know that I don't have 10 more years of halfpipe competition in front of me so I just don't want to waste my time. And as I told you before, I want to push the level for Sarah. I want her to be proud of me.