Jean-Baptiste Bernaz

Jean-Baptiste Bernaz: « I have everything i need in the toolbox »

With just one month to go before the start of the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, Jean-Baptiste Bernaz struck a blow with his victory on Wednesday in the ILCA 7 (ex Laser) at Kiel Week. Tip & Shaft caught up with the 37-year-old from Var, who is about to compete in his fifth Olympic Games.

► You’ve just won Kiel Week, can you tell us how it went?
I started with a pretty exceptional first day (three first places), notably by getting my starts right and going very fast, two things I’d been working on a lot over the last two months. The second day was more complicated, and the last day was very close, with very little wind rotation, so the races were all about getting good starts and every metre counted. I sailed really well, even if I had a little wake-up call in the Medal Race, which I didn’t master and which almost cost me first place. At the end of the day, it’s a painful victory, but it’s a very positive one. This regatta gave me the opportunity to sail at a high level and in front – bearing in mind that there was a great line-up, with quite a few guys qualified for the Games – but also to validate the points I’d worked on, to show the others that I was there and to build up my confidence. What’s more, Kiel is one of the great classics of the Olympic circuit. I’d never won it before, so it’s a real pleasure to add it to my list of achievements.

► Your last competitions were in April with the Palma Week (3rd) and the French Olympic Week (7th). Can you tell us how your preparation continued in May and June?
We did a lot of work in Marseille, sailing 24 days a month. We’re lucky enough to have a lot of support from the French team, which enabled us to rely on our data experts who gave us a briefing every morning, and then we went sailing with our foreign colleagues. In June, we mainly used the French youth group, which is coming on strong, to work on the little details, less on the basics and more on quality, especially the starts. We also did a lot of physical work, which is important for me because I’m not very young and the Laser is a very demanding class.

► Have you also worked a lot on the weather in Marseille?
As far as the weather is concerned, we have a unit at the Federation which, once again, gives us briefings every day so that we feel even more at home and so that we know every little detail about the bay, which is very complicated. We’re starting to get a good idea of the attitudes of the weather phenomena, which isn’t a guarantee of winning every race, but it is a guarantee of not being too surprised. We have a number of things to watch out for, so each day we know more or less what we’re going to be looking at, so as not to get caught out. After that, sailing is such an unstable sport that I hate projecting myself and telling myself that it’s going to be like this and nothing else.


“I’m coming back with my teeth in my mouth”


► You’re about to compete in your fifth Games. Do you feel that you’re better prepared than you were for the previous four?
I was talking about it recently with my coach (Nicolas Le Berre), who is doing his first olympic preparation with me. I told him that I was amazed to have the impression over the last six months that I’m getting better, that I’m developing. That doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m going to be better, but it’s a pretty good sign. Physically, I’m not in any pain and I feel good in all conditions, so I’d say I’ve got everything I need in the toolbox. Now I’m going to have to use them wisely. Today, I feel that the job is done, I can say that I’m ready, I want to take on the fight, I’m coming back to Marseille with my teeth in my mouth.

► What’s your programme for the final month?
I’m off to the mountains next week with my fitness trainer and Louise Cervera, the Olympic selection in the Radial (ICLA 6). The aim is to combine business with pleasure, by doing some physical preparation in a different setting from Marseille. It’s not to get away from it all, but we’re trying to make sure we’re as mentally fresh as possible before tackling the last ten days of preparation, and it’s important to arrive at the event with a strong desire to sail. That’s obviously easier when you’re competing in the Games, especially on home soil.

► How do you feel about this aspect, which can be a source of pressure?
I’m not at all anxious about it, I don’t feel in any danger from it, on the contrary, it’s kind of what excites me. Having friends and family come to see you, supporters cheering you on, it’s obviously a bit of energy spent, but it’s above all a lot of energy in return, it’s a chance to see all this enthusiasm around our sport, which is usually rather confidential. Here in Marseilles, I’m running into my neighbours who are asking me what day I’m sailing so they can come and see me, and everyone’s in a frenzy as soon as you’re flying the red, white and blue flag on your back, it’s great. I also call it the “advice period”, in the sense that as soon as you meet someone, you’re entitled to a new piece of advice! It can be anything from “don’t stress” to “don’t worry, we’ve got your back”, or “make sure you put your glasses on” – it’s almost like advice a mother might give her child. During my first campaigns, it annoyed me a bit, but in reality, it’s really nice!


“We have a very strong team”


► You are one of the candidates to be the flag-bearer for the French delegation, why did you apply?
A lot of people talked to me about it, telling me that with five Olympic Games under my belt, I was a legitimate bearer of Olympic values, and the Federation also put me forward, so it was quite natural. Now, I don’t know if I’ve been chosen because there are other big stars who are also candidates, but I’m happy to have been selected as one of the finalists. And whatever happens, I’m going to take part in the opening ceremony in Paris, I’ve asked to do so, especially as I’m starting in the second week.

► How many medals do you think the French sailing team can claim?
That’s a very tricky question! Personally, I think we can go for a medal in almost every series. Sailing is a sport where there’s always a small element of randomness and today, even the series that aren’t necessarily considered medal contenders are competitive in my opinion, they’re not out of the running at all. Now, I’m well aware that in reality it probably won’t happen like that, but we really do have a very strong team and I can’t see any holes in the racket.

► You’ve never won a medal, is that an obsession for you?
In any case, it’s what gives me the will to go on and fight every four years to be even stronger. It’s not so much the object that makes me dream, but more what it represents, Olympism, the grail of sport with all the nations in the world doing everything they can to win gold. When you’re an Olympic champion, you’re the champion of champions, and that’s what excites me. Now, if I leave these Games without a medal, that won’t bother me any more than that, because I’ve still achieved great things in my sport.

► How will your four previous Games help you at this one?
My leitmotiv will be to play to the end. At no point do I want to sit back, stop playing and look back. In Tokyo, for example, I arrived superbly prepared, I won the first race and after that, I tried to manage my race. When you start doing that, you’re losing. And when you realise that, it’s too late because you’ve lost the rhythm, so this time, I want to keep playing.

Photo: Sascha Klahn

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