Fast, French and Fun!
By Michael Mastarciyan
When they’re on the race course they’re all business.
Serious, focused, fast and extremely apt in the art and science of projecting their bodies down icy mountain pitches and navigating bumpy and jumpy race courses at light speeds.
Off the course though, it’s a different story for French speed stars Ingrid Jacquemod and Marion Rolland. Away from the track, and when they’re not spending countless hours in the gym working on fitness, strength, and balance training, Jacquemod and Rolland are usually having a hearty laugh about something or other.
My introduction to the fun-loving world of these two French speedsters happens in Lake Louise in the finish corral during World Cup week earlier this season. My first clue that these ladies enjoy a good laugh comes when I ask Jacquemod what she would like Santa Claus to bring her for Christmas for a video series called Letters to Santa (see our video archives to find out more). Jacquemod’s answer is a plastic surgery procedure that involves the augmentation of a female upper body part - or more specifically - parts.
The comedic success and overall hilarity of Jacquemod’s answer, with sidekick Rolland howling at her side, is found in the delivery and the choice of the colloquial term she uses to describe her Christmas gift wish.
When I tell her she can’t say that on camera and that the video is for a G-rated family audience, she points to Julia Mancuso (who is also choking with laughter) and says she learned the terminology from her American chum.
Later that same day, in the grand lobby of the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise hotel. Jacquemod and Rolland are huddled together chuckling with tears in their eyes from the intense laughter they’re collectively caught up in. I decide to approach them to ask for an interview as I don’t really know them and think it would be unlikely they’d turn me down while in such jovial spirits.
When I ask them if laughing and having fun is an important part of the good chemistry they seem to have as teammates, both agree with big warm smiles. Then, in between giggles and guffaws, they agree to meet with me for a dual interview.
Humour it seems, is something the French respect and admire on a national scale. This is the country, after all, that bestowed it’s ultimate civilian honour - The Legion of Honour - to American comedy legend Jerry Lewis. And this very same thing - humour, it appears to me, an outside observer, is an integral ingredient in Rolland and Jacquemod’s professional and personal relationship, and all-round vibe.
Later that evening I meet up with them in one of the hotel’s grand public spaces and before long I’m shooting video of them playing a French version of “paddy-cake” clapping and giggling while chanting a rhyme. It becomes abundantly clear to me, again, that these ladies know how to laugh - which is probably a very good thing for athletes who put their lives on the line and risk danger to life and limb every time they push out of the start gate.
“We are really good friends because we are living nearly 200 days a year together and we share the same risk when we are training and racing, and it’s nice that when we stop training and racing, to share the good times everywhere we are, and to just enjoy being together, otherwise it could be really tough,” Jacquemod tells me with a perfectly straight and sincere look on her face.
“When you give your best in a race it’s not worth making faces when things don’t go your way. And it’s not worth crying or being angry with the rest of the team. In downhill, with all the risk we have in racing and training, we have to be a strong team to stick together, and doing this with a smile is always much easier,” Rolland adds with a gentle smile of her own.
The interview, which covers everything from Rolland’s knee injury sustained last February at the Winter Olympic Games (she tells me the knee is doing much better!) to Jacquemod’s future ski racing plans and if she’s thinking of retirement yet (she laughs and thanks me sarcastically for this question and then, in a more serious and thoughtful tone tells me she will make a decision at the end of the race year based on her results and her motivation at the end of the season) is at first fairly formal. Before long though, the tone becomes less serious and then out of the blue, the subject turns to nicknames.
Why nicknames? I don’t honestly know, other than a confession that being Canadian, I like other Canadians involved in sport share a sort of national obsession with nicknames, and that most athletes and the journalists who write about them seem to have one in my native land. My nickname, for the record, is Marsy.
After sharing my nickname with the ladies, I politely ask them theirs, thinking athletes with such a positive vibe - and I won’t lie to you, these ladies ooze positive - have to have nicknames too.
“Do you guys have nicknames?” I bleat with an inquisitive grin.
“I haven’t any nickname, it’s only a rumour,” Jacquemod says with a naughty twinkle in her eyes before finally coming clean.
“Everybody calls me “Gridou”, but I don’t like this nickname - but we don’t choose. It’s just like a contraction of Ingrid with an “ou” - it’s like something like ‘minou’ (which means Kitty or Pussycat in French and is often used as a diminutive in French nicknaming custom and usage).”
“My name is Rolland so everybody has called me “Ro-Ro” since I was a child. When I was in elementary school everyone called me “Ma-Ma”, but now it’s Ro-Ro, or I have another I like, it’s Biloute. It doesn’t mean anything, it’s a French dialect from the North and everybody says, ‘Biloute, ahhhh!” And everybody calls everybody Biloute in the north of France,” Rolland says while giggling.
“It’s like maybe ‘Dude’ but worse,” Jacquemod adds with a laugh.
Having satisfied my Canadian curiosity for nicknames, I follow up by asking the ladies one last question - what their choice of nicknames would be if they could pick their own?
“Oh...‘Ma Cherie’!” answers Rolland with a quick howl followed immediately by Jacquemod’s response of ‘Mon Amour!’ in a deep and sultry French accent that would put Brigitte Bardot to shame.
Check out the video on the two French speed stars Marion Rolland and Ingrid Jacquemod!