Stop or still? To avoid exploding, these athletes are putting their careers on hold

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stop or still to avoid exploding, these athletes are putting their careers on hold
stop or still to avoid exploding, these athletes are putting their careers on hold

They said “stop”, for a few weeks or for longer. Their bodies worn out, their minds weary, these high-level athletes have had more than enough. So they decided to put their careers on “pause”. To descend for a moment from a ride as intoxicating as it is exhausting, which never stops, or very little. We are not talking here about “false” retirements followed by more or less successful returns, as in the cases of Michael Jordan or Björn Borg in the past. Or athletes who have decided to become mothers, such as Cleopatra Darleux or Amel Majri .

It is a question of rugby player Grégory Alldritt, the captain of the XV of France and La Rochelle, resting since the World Cup and until January, which could inspire Antoine Dupont after the Paris Games. Or the Olympic mogul ski champion Perrine Laffont, who has given up on next winter’s competitions, and the Spanish tennis player Garbine Muguruza, who has been out of work since February for an indefinite period…

Everyone hopes to imitate a Florent Manaudou or a Simone Biles , the queen of the gym who quickly found a breathtaking level despite two years away from exercise, an eternity on the scale of such a juvenile sport. “You really have to take a mental break, otherwise your body will decide for you,” said the 26-year-old American, quadruple Olympic gold medalist, after her triumphant return last August, during the US Classic in Chicago.

If he doesn’t really have the same size as the “flea” Biles, Alldritt resumed his arguments on Monday in Paris during Rugby Night. The Blues bulldozer was pleased to be able to grant himself “a period of recovery” and to take advantage of it to treat a body bruised by shocks, “rather than being forced by the injury to forced rest for six months or more “. Managing Director of Provale, the rugby players’ union, Mathieu Giudicelli applauds: “It’s a super intelligent strategy on the part of Stade Rochelais. Greg Alldritt has been in high demand in recent seasons. Unlike what has been done until now, we anticipate, we rest before getting injured. »

“Some athletes train seven days a week”

The word is gradually being released around the health of athletes, both physical and mental (the two being very linked), after having been confused for too long with weakness, especially in sports as labeled “muscles and testosterone” as rugby. . But the grass was not necessarily greener elsewhere.

“When I started playing tennis, this type of thing was frowned upon,” says Pier Gauthier, a former professional who is now a mental trainer . Previously, athletes may have gritted their teeth more and taken more risks. I explain to my athletes that it is better to take a week regularly rather than suddenly stopping for a month because your knee is broken. There are cases of athletes who don’t take vacations, training seven days a week. It’s complete nonsense. And there are coaches who validate that. »

In the cases that interest us, taking a break does not mean sitting on your sofa with a can and chips to watch your colleagues sweat on TV. “I want to train, to spend more time on skis, something that we usually have very little time to do,” says Perrine Laffont. We are always chasing time. I also want to regain mental freshness. » The Ariège skier spoke of her moments of “distress” and “depression” in the documentary  STRoNG, as strong as they are fragile , available on Prime Video.

Olympic finalist in Sochi in 2014, at barely 15 years old, Laffont is now 25 and she has won absolutely everything . So, she is taking advantage of a winter without the Olympics or the World Cup to recharge her batteries and look forward to 2025 and 2026 with her new management. “The goal is also not to fall back into the fatigue that we accumulate season after season, and to anticipate this,” explains the Pyrenees. Because we will say that my track record is done. What’s going to happen to me is just a bonus. » Fresh and ready again, Perrine Laffont hopes to glean at least a sixth world title in Switzerland in 2025, then a second Olympic title the following year in Italy.

“You have overworked guys who can’t take it anymore”

“What is also exhausting is the poorly managed pressure in relation to objectives and financial aspects,” underlines Pier Gauthier. When I support athletes, it is over the long term, and I teach them to be helped by this pressure, so that it stimulates them, rather than limiting them. » “The staff, today, are more able to listen to their problems,” continues the mental trainer. But there is still a need to evolve because if the word is freed, we are going a long way. »

In the case of rugby, Mathieu Giudicelli assures us “to see an evolution in the mentality of coaches and club presidents”. But the CEO of Provale cannot help but note the scale of the work remaining to be carried out. “You have overworked, overused guys who can’t take it anymore. They no longer feel like playing or training. It’s taboo to talk about it for some players, even with a trusted person. Because you always have the image of the privileged, well-paid player who has nothing to complain about…”

Easier for the stars

And then, for an honest element of Top 14 as of Ligue 1 or elsewhere, the specter of competition lurks. Not everyone has the aura or the weight in a club of an Alldritt or a Dupont. On paper, deciding to take a life-saving break seems easier in an individual sport, where the athlete is their own boss. But here too, it’s all a question of status. “If you are Djokovic or Nadal, you have a bank account that allows you to stop as long as you want,” underlines Pier Gauthier. The judoka or the athlete who fights to survive, when he stops, there is no more money coming in. Me, I was 200th in the ATP, if I didn’t play for two months, I was negative on my account. »

It is therefore up to the stars to overcome individualistic temptations to speak on behalf of their colleagues in the shadows. And to the unions, like that of French footballers (UNFP), which published a press release on Wednesday against the overloading of calendars, recalling that “for years the UNFP and the FIFPRO [the international players’ union] have been ringing the bell “alarm” and “denounce the work overload which endangers not only the physical integrity of the actors, but also their mental health”.

Only, as the Neg’ Marrons sang , “it’s the currency that runs the world, it’s the currency that runs the Earth.” And nothing says that sport, in particular the CVC and Infantino trend football, is inclined to hear this type of grievance.

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