Charline Picon: “We’re going to have to adapt constantly”

Charline Picon – an Olympic windsurfing champion in the RS:X class in 2016, the first French athlete to qualify for the Tokyo Games, and a world silver medallist in February just before the COVID-19 pandemic led to a global lockdown – has been making the most of her time away from sport. Having decided to bring her glittering career to an end after the Games, she is now looking forward to an extra year of competing in the sport she is passionate about.

Picture by Getty Images

You were the first French athlete to be officially selected for the Tokyo Games…

Yes, the CNOSF [French National Olympic and Sports Committee] announced that I’d been selected at the start of June 2019. Booking your ticket for the Games a year before the event really puts you at ease and gives you time to prepare, because when you’re fighting to earn your place right up until the last minute, and given there’s only one competitor per country, it can really take it out of you.

How did the 2020 World Championships go?

In Australia, it was the last competition before the lockdown. We just heard at the start that the Chinese athletes had gone into lockdown in their country. But to be honest, we didn’t expect what happened next. We still didn’t really know what it was all about in late February. They were great championships, held in great conditions. I came home at the beginning of March, we had a “normal” two-week recovery period and then, when we were supposed to be getting back on the water, the lockdown came in.   

How did you react when you heard the Games had been postponed?

There were several phases. At the start, when the Games were still on, it was a question of keeping up my physical training so that I’d be in peak condition when things got back to normal. Then, the postponement was announced. I was caught in two minds a bit. I felt ready to go and defend my Olympic title this summer, so that wasn’t particularly pleasant. But my partner said: “Listen, everything’s fine; you’ll still get to do what you love in 18 months’ time.” Thinking about it like that made things easier for me. Windsurfing and taking part in regattas involves progressing constantly and doing everything you can to perform well; and that’s something that motivates me every day.

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Did the postponement completely disrupt your plans?

I was intending to end my career this year after the Tokyo Games, and I had it all planned out: my daughter would be going back to school, and my business project was coming together. I’d had everything prepared since just after the Rio Games. Now, I’ll have to adapt accordingly. It also means that, when the Games finish in 2021, I’ll already have a firm foothold with my business project, and that’s pretty cool.  

How have you been making the most of this unusual time?

I haven’t been thinking about windsurfing a great deal. It’s been a bit of a disconcerting time. Luckily, I’ve got this business project to open up a physiotherapy practice, using everything I’ve learnt during my sports career. It’s ambitious: the perfect second chapter in my life. During lockdown, I’ve started thinking about my plans, mapping things out; it was cool to throw myself at these new challenges. It’s been all go – really beneficial. Now that I’ve got everything in place for my business project, I can start focusing on my Olympic preparations again.

Charline Picon
Picture by IOC

How do you feel about the fact you’ll be competing in your fourth Games in 2021?

Initially, the postponement of the Games was a bit disappointing given there were four months to go until the event, I’d just finished second in the World Championships and was on the home strait, and there wasn’t much more to be addressed… given I was in a good place basically. It’s hard to tell yourself that you’ll have to keep that level up for 18 months. But the decision to postpone was a welcome one, because if the Games had taken place in July, it would have been difficult to guarantee fairness in relation to other athletes, without knowing what they had or hadn’t been able to do. Clearly, from a health perspective, the postponement was the right decision. Now, given that we don’t know what to expect in the coming year, we’re going to have to adapt constantly. There’s never been a situation like this in the history of sport. We still don’t have a schedule; we don’t know what to expect for the competitions programme over the next 12 months.

Based on your experience, what does “stay strong” mean for you?

We have no way of affecting events; all we can do is process the information as and when it comes. At the moment, you can’t look too far ahead into the future. The goal is to stay fit so that, when we get the green light, we’ll feel comfortable being back on a board, physically ready so that we don’t get injured after a two-month interruption. That has been my priority during the lockdown: making the most of the time to develop my body strength, and finding ways to keep my mind occupied. I’ve taken up yoga! You need to find time for yourself, take stock of what’s important, take advantage of nature. Realise what we’ve got going for us. I’ve also been getting into nutrition; I signed up to an online training course. There are plenty of things to keep us occupied and help us stay strong.

Charline Picon
Picture by IOC

What’s next?

I’ve been itching to get back on my board, get some fresh air again and get back that sense of freedom. You have to stay strong. That’s important when the aim is to get to the Games, even if the event isn’t for another year and a bit. We’ve been going through a period where we haven’t had to put massive pressure on ourselves; we’ve eased the pressure a bit in fact. Everyone reacts differently. Some people needed to unwind; others have been indulging themselves a little. But that’s not a big deal; we’ve got time. Everyone knows where they have to draw their own line. The most important thing is to feel comfortable with yourself and what you’re doing more generally.