It’s hard to believe that someone as modest and unassuming as Ben Cavet could have created controversy in the pursuit of his freestyle skiing dream. In February this year Ben skied on the French national team at the Sochi Winter Olympics, despite being born in Maidstone, Kent.
On the BBC, Olympic commentators were quick to claim Ben as ‘one of ours’, a great skier who’d somehow defected to the other side. “The Sun newspaper called me up, they wanted to know what was going on. I just want to ski and perform, it’s good to set the story straight” Ben explains.
Ben began skiing aged two on a family holiday, his dad is a ski instructor and the family moved to the area when Ben was ten. Now aged 20, the family live in La Cote d’Arbroz, just outside Morzine. “There’ve been a lot of supposed ‘explanations’ for my place on the French ski team. Contrary to popular belief, I’ve never applied for UK Sport funding, and they never turned me down. I knew I’d change nationality to ski on the French team at some point and if I’d taken UK Sport funding this would have affected my chances of skiing for France.”
It’s true that those who criticise UK Sport’s levels of funding for winter sports athletes use Ben as a convenient example of supposed ‘missed talent’. “I learnt to ski in France, first skied moguls in France, joined local ski clubs in France and perfected my skills in France. Would I have had these opportunities if my family had stayed in the UK? Absolutely not. I have a much better chance of fulfilling my potential as a freestyle skier on the French national team. For me, it’s important to represent the nation that trains you.”
France has a strong history of producing top mogul skiers. In every winter Olympic competition until the 2010 Vancouver Games, French athletes returned victorious with medals around their necks. “This expertise stays in the team. Successful athletes become coaches and more kids like me get the chance to learn from experts.”
With a father as a ski instructor, one of the largest training grounds on his doorstep and the support of excellent local ski teams, its no wonder Ben’s performance earned him a place on the French national team. “Sochi was a really special event, it was definitely the highlight of my skiing career so far.”
“The French team was 150 athletes strong with a great support team. The opening ceremony was particularly special and the facilities in the Olympic Village were incredible. There was a free games room, free Coke… but we had to pay for our own McDonalds, which was a bit disappointing.” Yes, it seems Olympic athletes do eat Big Macs.
Ben’s Olympic goal was to place in the top 10 but his best result pre-Sochi was 16th. “Up until Sochi it had been a mentally tough season. We spend a lot of time retaining our physical fitness, but we don’t have any sports psychologists. I came 8th in the final in Sochi, exceeding my expectations and setting me up nicely for the rest of the season.” Ben went on to become Junior World Champion.
“Japan is the most interesting country I’ve visited so far. The Japanese absolutely love their mogul skiing; their athletes are celebrities with big sponsorship deals. Its really cool to experience the cultural aspects of the countries I compete it, but travel is really expensive. My training doesn’t leave me with enough time for a job. Other than some funding from the mountain resort of Chatel, I’m totally self-funded.”
Ben is such a dedicated, talented and all-round nice guy, this surely won’t be the case for much longer. “The resort of Chatel is really committed to giving promising skiers from across the area the opportunity to develop their skills by financing their training programmes. It would be really hard for me to compete without their support.”
The Pyeonchang Winter Games of 2018 may seem some way off, but in the mind of an ambitious athlete, the next Olympics are always on the horizon. “My aim is to arrive in South Korea for the next Olympics as favourite. I’m focusing on my mental preparations, my training and my progression in competitions to make sure I get better each time.”
To anyone that’s experienced the knee and joint pressure of skiing down a field of moguls, it will come as no surprise that professional mogul skiers get old quickly. “The oldest competitor I know is 30 years old, but typically skiers will retire before then. I’ve made no decisions on what career path I’ll follow when I’m too old to compete, but I am starting my ski instructor qualifications this spring. There are perhaps opportunities to coach other athletes, and I’m learning Italian and German languages too.”
English or French, Junior World Champion or Olympic Champion, one thing is certain. Morzine, Les Gets and Avoriaz should be very proud to be the home of Ben Cavet.
Follow Ben’s journey to Pyeonchang on