Nathalie Barbotin hangs up her skates after 30 years on the tracks
Back on a long sports career…
From the small Marc Sangnier track of Mont-Saint-Aignan in Haute Normandie, France, where she caught the competition virus, to San Benedetto del Tronto in Italy where she completed her last marathon during a world championship, the Breton skater will have won nearly everything. Her specialties: distance races and marathons. Her strong points: will power and and self-sacrifice. With a title list that has no equivalent, including French and European titles as well as victories on the most prestigious marathons of the world, Nathalie hangs up. However, she does not leave without having sown: in her wake, a state of mind, an attitude and a method that inspire - and will inspire - a lot more athletes. In that interview, the neo-retired track skater comes back on the choices that led her to put an end to her career. She also evokes the sports legacy she offers to the young generation and takes stock of what her future will be - not very far from sport and skating!
Hello Nathalie. In other interviews concerning that same subject, one could have started with "retirement, already?" But with you, it is quite different: You finally resolve to retire from the packs after 20 years in the Senior Category…
Twenty years in the Senior Category is a long and a short time altogether as I did not really skate at a high international level during all those years!
I devoted the first five years to my chemistry and biology studies and I really entered the French Team only in 2001, the year of the world championships in Valence d'Agen. On the occasion of the world championships in Italy, 2012, I felt that the time had come for me to stop high level competition skating: It seemed to me that I had gone as far as I could, if I may talk like that.
Yet, I did not take the decision overnight. I started thinking about it during the season, and on the starting line of the world championship marathon of San Benedetto I was fully aware that it was my last race. I was a bit moved at the finish of the race, but as I had not talked about it yet, I could not share the emotion with anyone, Christophe (note: Audoire) was missing that day.
Knowing you, you must have left a bit hungry for more…
I did in a way, because I would have liked to be able to express myself to the max and, for various reasons, it was not the case on those championships. In 2011, during the championships in Korea, I had got a 6th place at the point race on road after having followed quite a hectic preparation (I had had to stop skating in May and June for health reasons). By the way, that is what decided me to do one more season after those championships: I did not feel at my best in Korea and I thought myself able to do better the next year.
In 2012, I had a better preparation, my level was also far better, but the circumstances were not in my favor. High level skating is unforgiving: all the conditions have to meet for you to get medals, and that year (note: 2012) it was not the case… Still, I am very satisfied to have taken the decision in 2011 to come back in the French Team: it enabled me to see that the level had improved a lot, especially in the women's category, with the rising power of the Asians.
I am very proud of having managed to come back to a high level after a 5-year absence. I could also enjoy the latest technological innovations: the first bends full speed with new generation wheels (with the double polyurethane stripe) are unforgettable and, if it were only for those sensations, it was worth coming back!
On the other hand, the least to say is that in 2011 you surprised many in getting the gold at the European championships in the Netherlands!
I must confess that I am quite proud of that championship! I was very happy in crossing the finish line of my first victory (the elimination race on track)…
At first, I was not the leader but the team mate and, when our leader (Justine Halbout) was eliminated 6 laps before the end, I felt that I was the French with the best physical condition and I asked Laetitia Le Bihan to bring me to the sprint. She did it perfectly and I won. We had won the race in controlling it from the start to the end. It is what always attracted me in that wonderful discipline: the strategic side which counts a lot in the final result. A race won that way always brought me lots of emotions… Indeed, at the age of 37 and after a 5-year absence, bringing two new European titles to the French team was a great pleasure. I think that that first race of the championship was a great comeback, a real successful challenge!
"Coming back in the French Team after a five-year absence: an idea that sounded a bit crazy at first…"
Your aim, when you came back on the traditional circuits a couple of years ago, was also to guide the new generation of French female skaters: a successful bet?
In 2010, the French Team came in Nantes (France) for a few days during its preparation of the world championships. I was at the training and Alain Nègre, the national coach, noticed that even if I was not taking part in the world championships, I had a very good level. I was competing on the pro circuits of the marathon world cup with some of the best women in the world: I had to be physically in top form. After that training, Alain contacted me and submitted the idea of a comeback in the French team, to help the French women who had been having a hard time at the international level for several years…
I must say that that idea seemed a bit crazy to me at first, but it germinated after a while and we finally decided, Christophe and I, that the new adventure was worth it. With my comeback, I hope I was able to help the women of the French team as well as the ones who aspire to be part of it.
Despite my five-year absence, my experience enabled me right away to make room for our team in the international packs and we could impose ourselves. Although I was in the French team, I was still working almost full-time: I think I have proved that when you provide yourself with the means to fulfill your ambitions, you can reach your objectives. the French skaters are just like the others, they can get medals at the world championships, even titles! But you have to train hard for that!
I did not have as much time as the others to devote to my training, so that I had to optimize each session. That is why I decided to do each session at 100% of my capacities of the day. When you have more time, a few recovery sessions are recommended of course… One of the particularities of the sport is that sometimes you win on your own, sometimes you do thanks to your teamwork. I hope I have brought to the French Team the example of a strong team cohesion, of tactics always moving forward, of pugnacity and total commitment of yourself and for the team… and if some parts of these example remain for the young Juniors (the French Team of tomorrow), I will be very satisfied! Compared to the other team, this is how medals will come!
When you came back to traditional races, the women's national team was not at the world's top, but it seems to change little by little. Now, the French are generally less present on marathons - except for Justine Halbout, who is very regular. It is a failure?
I do not think that we should talk about a French failure as for marathons because there are unfortunately a lot less events than a few years before, and this is where the failure stands for me… I had the luck to live the golden years of the world cup circuits, of the Swiss Cup, of the French Cup and the German Cup…
Since 2001, I was declared as a professional athlete (independent worker) and we would go touring for pro seasons with 20 races in nearly 10 different countries each year - the sportswoman life I had dreamt of… which was not the case anymore in 2011!
The decrease of marathons, and consequently of my motivation, is partly why I came back into the French Team. I needed a new challenge and that one came just at the right time.
Now that you are going to go 'to the other side' what types of races would you like to witness from the women who are still on the run?
If you consider that today the most important races are the European and the World Championships, you have to prepare for them during the whole season. The World Championships are run by teams of two, with a leader who has to be assisted by a team mate of the same level, to stay with her almost until the finish line… The team mate is 100% devoted to her leader and keeps in mind that for the next race, the roles will be reversed. The slightest mistake from either one of them would jeopardize the tactic.
The girls have to train for that type of races during the European cups particularly. You also have to think about training the right way… During a race, you do not do what you are able to do during training. Each training should be aimed at the improvement of the performances needed for the races you are going to take part in during the international events. You do not train to know how to do laps around a track! Each moment should be devoted to improvement: It is discipline but should it never be a chore otherwise you cannot hold on.
At the end of a career full of traveling and competitions, what are your best memories for the sports part?
Taking stock of it all, I realize that the most striking event for me is my first medal at a world championship: it was a revelation in a way… I realized that I had a world level and that I could aspire to be part of the bests. Moreover during that championship, I had already got a 4th place, so that the result was not isolated. When I was twelve or so, I had started 'dreaming' about becoming a champion… I did not know how I would do it, but I could feel it was my way… I think that that medal gave credibility to my secret aspirations: I could start living my passion!
I also have great memories of podiums and of 'successful' races. As I said, controlling the race has always been of great value to me: it must be my cartesian side. I remember massive marathon sprints during which I was not the leader but the captain of the team: I was the one taking decisions for the team in the last kilometers, and managing to place two of my leaders on the podium in a fast and hectic sprint brought me a lot of satisfaction, like for example in Zurich during a competition of the World cup…
Sharing has always been my driving force: If I could not have 'shared' my victories, they would have lacked flavor. Team victories, like for example the one we won with the Alessi Powerslide Team, will be engraved forever in my mind. We had a very devoted staff which put everything in place for us to be at our bests. The day preceding our first team marathon, Mr. Alessi, who was not coming with us, said to us at the Milan Airport: "Enjoy and the first one of you who does not serve the team will not take part in the next race." It is a good memory, and we won the world cup that year.
"I hope that one day, I will have the pleasure to share all my memories"
I guess that you must have met tons of people, each more interesting than the last…
I do not think I will offend anyone in naming Christophe Audoire, who has become my husband, as being the most important person. But the list is very long! Skating is part of me: it is my life, nearly all my friends are part of it.
I have great memories of sharing with my team mates of different professional team, such as Salomon, KIA, Salomon Smart, Alessi and Powerslide… We were always in-between two flights or stuck for hours in cars to go from one race to another! I also think of personally very enriching meetings, with such different cultures but the same emotions in the end, everywhere in the world. I have the luck to travel and meet a lot more characters of our sport, less renowned than the champions and who play a great part into its development: to name but a few… Srikantha in India, Wendy in South Africa, Joseph in Kenya, and a lot more who voluntarily go out of their ways to help the young skaters… In France too, in the clubs… I realize that we share the same passion.
One day, I hope soon, I will have the pleasure to share all those moments with skate lovers, why not through a book or a website… to be continued!
Can your future be written without sport?
I skated my last race on Sunday, September 16th, 2012, and since then I have not put my skates back on. But I do not miss it… They are carbon made-to-measure skates designed for competition, these skates have been my high level performance companions: I do not picture myself going for a little fitness skate with them!
Three days after my coming back from Italy, I went for a first running outing. Every two or three days, I feel the need to let off steam and I go running. After five minute I look at my GPS and I cannot help it: I speed up and I do intervals, trying to improve at each session, and it does me good! I feel better and better and I may be attracted to take part in running or cycling competitions, or both, but as an amateur! I love sport, I need it to feel good, it is part of me, of my life.
After 30 years of skating, I feel the need to breathe (in my head and in my body), but I know that the need of putting skates back on and taking part in events for pleasure will come. I do not know what the future will be made of and I must confess that I do not miss intensive training: It was time I breathed! Moreover, my job takes a lot of time… And last but not least, I do not leave the world of skating since I am on the circuits a lot of weekends per years for my job.
A title list one can only dream about…
French Champion from the Junior categories to Senior…
"The number of titles? I have no idea, but most of them were for distance races."
French Team results at the European or World Championships
- 15 titles of European Champion
- World Vice-Champion of road relay in Suzhou 2005
- elimination race on road in Suzhou 2005
- elimination race on track in Venezuela in 2003
- point race on track in Ostende in 2002
- point elimination race on road in Valence d'Agen in 2002
Main Results in Professional Teams
- Victory at the general individual ranking of the 2001 and 2002 Swiss Inline Cup with the Salomon World Team
- 1st per team of the WIC
- in 2002 with SAAB Salomon Team
- in 2004 with KIA Team
- in 2009 with Powerslide World Team
- 1st of the marathons of Zurich, Bern, Sempachersee, Lausanne and Zub (Switzerland)
- 2nd in Engadin (Switzerland)
- 1st at the individual world ranking of marathon between 2001 and 2003
- 1st at the WIC of Suzhou (China) and at the WIC of Disneyland Paris
- 1st at the marathon of Dijon and of les Herbiers
LinksBy French Federation Inline Speed-Skaking Committee
Translation: Chloé Seyres
Photos: Rollerenligne.com and all rights reserved