Kevin Rolland: "I respect myself far more"

The French halfpipe skier Kevin Rolland aims to qualify for his third Olympic Winter Games at Beijing 2022. But after four hectic years, he approaches these Games with serenity.

By Clémence Roult
Picture by © Richard Bord

"If I had to describe my state of mind during each Games in one word, I would say 'conqueror' in Sochi, a little bit 'kamikaze' in PyeongChang, and 'serene' in Beijing."

Even if Kevin Rolland’s Olympic qualification for halfpipe event is not secured yet, the skier from La Plagne, in the French Alps, approaches the Olympic Winter Games of Beijing 2022 with serenity and wisdom.

Many things have happened to Rolland since his last participation at PyeongChang 2018, where he finished 11th: a terrible ski accident that immobilised him for several weeks, the birth of his two sons, and his growing age, as he becomes one of the doyen of the international circuit.

Obviously, the state of mind of the bronze medalist in Sochi 2014, has also changed.

"I feel more mature. But I’m not sure that maturity is always good in our sport", he admitted while laughing, before adding: "but I’m still fiery, otherwise I would have stopped a while ago."

Kevin Rolland speaks to Olympics.com about his new state of mind before competing at the first halfpipe World Cup of the season, in Copper Mountain, USA, from 8 to 10 December 2021.

Get the passion for ski back after near-deadly accident

Kevin Rolland’s Olympic dream could have ended brutally in 2019. A year after the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018, the skier from Savoie decided to beat the world record for a high jump from a quarterpipe. But his attempt didn’t go as planned at all. Rolland had a massive fall.

"I spent three days in a coma. I broke my pelvis, ribs, vertebrate; I had head trauma, many of my organs were damaged, especially my lungs.

"It was serious."

After three month bedridden and several surgeries, Rolland had only one thing in mind: to get back on skis. Not to become a champion again, but to have a new goal and get out of his condition.

"I first had to learn how to walk again, then to run. My body reacted pretty well to recovery. After only five months, I was able to ski again, very slowly of course, but still."

Getting back on skis after such a short period of time was almost a miracle. As Rolland joked: "Even when you have a ruptured cruciate ligament, it takes longer!"

But if his body was back on track, he still had some psychological fears.

"I injured myself a lot during my career and I’ve never had apprehensions, but this time, I was scared. The only way to overcome that was to have pleasure again, learn back the basis and slowly redo some small jumps. And while the pleasure became bigger, the fears disappeared."

At some point, the desire to compete came back as well.

For his first competition after the Worlds in 2019, where he took silver, Rolland next participated in the 2021 World Championships in Aspen, USA. He finished eighth; a terrific result considering the two years he had lived before.

'Daddy on skis'

There is often a discussion around female athletes who juggle their motherhood and sporting careers, but less-so about fathers. And if there is one thing that has changed Kevin Rolland’s life, it is surely the birth of his two sons.

As if it was destiny, his first son Rio arrived a few days after he woke up from a coma. Two years later, after his first competition in Aspen, his second son Dali completed the family.

"It has changed lots of things, of course. I changed as a man but also as an athlete. I don’t have the same priorities.

"Before, when a competition didn’t go well, it was a big deal for me. Now, if things don’t go as planned, it is not a problem and I can find consolation with my family."

It is not a secret, in freestyle skiing, there is considerable risk. And when you become a father, you have to be aware of the risks you take.

"I still take risks, but they are more under control. Before, some events were so important to me that I was putting my [safety] after them and attempting things with a higher risk of injury. Today, I respect myself far more."

It will be a mistake to think that Kevin Rolland will not give his very best to climb on the podium at Beijing 2022, but he will also make sure that he comes back home in one piece.

His age: a strength and a weakness

"The current world champion [Nico Porteous from New-Zealand] is 19 years old, I’m 32… I better get ready for this."

The new generation of freestyle skiers is coming fast. As well as Porteous there's also Rolland’s cousin Tess Ledeux, a 20-year-old double world champion in slopestyle and Big Air, or the Chinese sensation Eileen Gu, double world champion at only 18-years-old. Now, Rolland is one of the oldest skier on the international tour.

It's a new position that involved some changes in his preparation.

"I do a lot of physical training. I feel that I’m getting older. It’s more difficult to recover and to have muscles, so I work a lot to improve my physical condition. I pay more attention to my food as well. And on skis, I prefer quality to quantity and I try to make the best of the time I spend during specific ski training [sessions]."

His long career also makes him one of the most experienced athlete on tour. If he qualifies for Beijing 2022, it will be his third participation at the Olympic halfpipe competition. Or put another way, he could participate at every Olympic halfpipe event since the sport was introduced into the Olympic programme in time for Sochi 2014.

"Our discipline is an outdoor sport so there are lots of components to deal with, like wind and snowfall. Having experience is really important in competition, and I think it is my strength today."

It's an experience that he likes to share, almost as a mentor, with Tess Ledeux, who is impressed by her cousins' career.

"He has an outstanding career and if I can have the same by the end of mine, I’ll be very proud of myself", confesses Ledeux, in an exclusive interview with Olympics.com.

With his experience and a new, peaceful, state of mind, Kevin Rolland is back on the quest for Olympic glory.

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