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Fourth time's the charm: Johan Clarey discusses becoming the 'fastest skier on earth' and his quest for Olympic gold

In a few weeks, Johan Clarey, at 41 years old, will try to win his first Olympic medal at Beijing 2022. Thanks to his experience and some history-making performances, the French skier has high expectations for his fourth Olympic Winter Games.

5 min By Nicolas Kohlhuber
Johan Clarey of Team France
(Picture by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

Johan Clarey is like a good wine; he gets better with age.

During his incredible 2020/21 season, Clarey, then aged 40, finished second in Kitzbuehel, making him the oldest skier in history to finish on the podium of a World Cup race. The native of Annecy rounded off the campaign by finishing in the top five of the downhill World Cup for the first time in his career.

For Clarey, making history is nothing new; he is, after all, the fastest skier on earth.

In 2013, on the slopes of Wengen, the French skier became the first man to break the 100mph barrier in a World Cup contest. To this day, Clarey is still the only person to have accomplished the feat.

In an exclusive interview with Olympics.com, Clarey discusses his records, his longevity in the sport of Alpine skiing, and his goals for the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022, which open on 4 February.

"To keep skiing at 40 years old, even if I’m not feeling having this age in my mind, is incredible," Clarey says. "I get talked about a lot, it’s pretty nice being the oldest skier in activity."

When Julien Lizeroux and Hannes Reichelt retired last summer, Johan Clarey became the oldest active skier for the 2021/22 Alpine skiing World Cup season. On 14 January, less than one week after turn 41, he will race in Wengen, the Swiss resort where he established an incredible world record.

In 2013, Clarey raced down the Swiss mountain, clocking in a top speed of 161.9 km/h as he finished. In the process, Clarey became the fastest skier in the history of Alpine skiing.

"It was a very good moment because I’ve performed well. Wengen is a very demanding slope where I had a lot of fun because the conditions were amazing and it was very nice. Arriving at the Hole of the Austrians [a name for part of the track] was incredible. Everything was there to make us go very fast; since then, the [International Ski Federation] has tried to slow us down."

But there is something Clarey regrets about his historical performance.

"I would have rather won the race that day. Or win a race and not have this record."

Johan Clarey breaking the 100 mph barrier in Wengen
Johan Clarey breaking the 100 mph barrier in Wengen (2013 Getty Images)

Seventeen World Cup seasons but no victory

Clarey may have put his name in the history books, but he is yet to win a single World Cup race. However, over the course of the last three seasons he has steadily improved, and last winter he finished in the top five of the downhill World Cup for the first time in his career.

If it wasn't for a masterful performance from Beat Feuz, the French skier could have won the mythical downhill in Kitzbuehel. But he finished second. It was not a win, but Clarey did set another world record by becoming the oldest skier to ever finish on the podium of a World Cup race.

Clarey has also found success at the world championships; in 2019, in Are, Sweden, a 38-year-old Clarey won his first world championship medal thanks to a second-place finish in the Super G competition. With such achievements and his experience, Clarey puts his quest for gold into perspective.

"I’ve thought about it, but now, it’s not an absolute goal. It doesn’t become an obsession, I’m very proud of my career. If I finally won it, it would be amazing. If not, I will still have a lot of nice things done during my career."

Johan Clarey: "My history is special"

Winning a race would be just reward for Clarey's incredible longevity. Clarey, who has 216 World Cup starts to his name, made his first appearance at the highest level in November 2003.

But his early career was far from smooth sailing. He suffered a lot of injuries, including two torn ACLs in 2009. Coming back from those injuries, Clarey says, is his proudest achievement. While he was dealing with injury setbacks during his twenties, Clarey relied on his mental fortitude, which still keeps him motivated today.

"After turning 30, I suffered far fewer injuries and I was able to take more pleasure in my skiing. I still had a lot of things to prove and I was motivated. This is why I’m still competing. I told myself that I’m not finished and I’ve had my best years between 35 and 40 years old, which is incredible."

Experience has allowed him to find the right mindset. As a young skiier, Clarey tried to go too fast, too early. Now, he is more positive and puts less pressure on his shoulders, which has allowed him to climb to the top of his sport.

"My history is special. I’ve done a lot of things late in life: learning to walk, having my adult teeth come in (according to my mum), and getting married. So maybe, the [success in] my career had to come later too."

A troubled history with the Olympic Winter Games

Given his 'late' achievements in life, it would be apt if Clarey were to win an Olympic medal before he retires.

Clarey will compete at his fourth Olympic Games this February, but he easily could have had had only two Games under his belt. Following a disappointing performance at Sochi 2014, Clarey planned to retire the following year. He decided not to, and at PyeongChang 2018 Clarey produced the best Olympic result of his career with an 18th place finish in the downhill competition. But he didn't think about competing at the Games again four years later.

"Now that it’s so close, it’s so incredible that I don’t even know what to think," says Clarey, who counts his Olympic debut at Vancouver 2010 as his best Olympic memory.

"I hope that my last Olympic experience will be the best one. I think that psychologically, I’m in a better place. I have more tools than the other times in order to perform."

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