in Font-Romeu, small and large breaths of fresh air to try to get close to the summits

2023-11-04 10:00:21

In the morning, 5 kilometers of swimming and 12 kilometers of walking, then a long ten-meter pistol shooting session in the afternoon. “A short day, a gentle recovery”, according to Elodie Clouvel and her companion, Valentin Belaud, on this day in early November. The next day, it will be horse riding then fencing for the two athletes. These two multi-medal modern pentathlon champions pose “the foundations of the season, in a relaxing, friendly setting. We will come back at least twice before the Olympic Games”specifies Elodie Clouvel.

Elodie Clouvel, Pentathlon champion, in pistol shooting training with her companion the champion Valentin Belaud, at the Font-Romeu Altitude training center dependent on the CREPS in Montpellier, October 30, 2023. GEORGES BARTOLI / DIVERGENCE POUR « THE WORLD

Ce “relaxing setting”, it is Font-Romeu (Pyrénées-Orientales) and its two indoor swimming pools of 50 and 25 meters, its fencing or weight training rooms, its ice rink, its gymnasium, its athletics track and its two stadiums. It is here that, since 1967, the elite of national and international sport have come to spend a few days or several weeks. Wanted by President Charles de Gaulle to prepare for the 1968 Mexico Olympic Games (OG), the National Altitude Training Center (CNEA) is located on the mountainside, facing Spain, barely an hour from coastline and 1,850 meters above sea level.

“In 2022, 2,222 athletes were welcomed during training courses, with a proportion of 80% French and 20% foreigners, and in 26 different disciplines”, welcomes Bruno Le Bellec, director of the site, which depends on the center of resources, expertise and sports performances (Creps) in Montpellier. “ But this year, so special, it will be priority for the French teams,” he specifies.

Elodie Clouvel, at the Font-Romeu Altitude training center dependent on CREPS in Montpellier, October 30, 2023. GEORGES BARTOLI / DIVERGENCE POUR “LE MONDE”

The national rowing team will be there in November, followed by those of the wrestlers, the triathletes, in the spring, then the track cyclists and certain members of the French athletics team, who will come to prepare until the deadline for the Olympics.

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A hypoxic room and rooms

Since the observed benefits of altitude training, the CNEA, despite recurring threats of closure, has established itself as a center of excellence. “We have passed a new milestone in the last six or seven years”affirms Mr. Le Bellec, and above all, “we focus on a set of high performance support services, adapted to each discipline”. With one objective: acclimatization to environmental stress, in this case: altitude.

As we climb, the atmospheric pressure decreases. Oxygenation of the blood and muscles is less effective: this phenomenon is called hypoxia. In response, the body adapts, in particular by producing more red blood cells, whose hemoglobin provides the necessary oxygen to the tissues. Back on the plains, this increased concentration temporarily improves muscle oxygenation, and therefore sports performance.

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