WHISTLER, British Columbia – Jason Lamy Chappuis, the World Cup leader in Nordic combined, and his French teammates spent the week leading up to the Vancouver Olympics training with the Americans in Park City, Utah.
He felt right at home making his first jumps on snow-covered U.S. soil – as well he should.
The 23-year-old Chappuis was born in Montana, the son of a French father and an American mother.
He first sped down the slopes in the Rocky Mountains at 18 months, albeit on his father’s back. At 3 1/2 , he skied his first Alpine race in Colorado, where his parents were both ski instructors.
Then, his family made a decision that would alter the Nordic combined landscape 18 years later.
“When I started first grade, my parents wanted to change their lives. You know, at Club Med, it was not a good family life,” Chappuis said.
So, at 5, his family moved to his father’s hometown of Bois D’amont, France.
“I started cross-country skiing in my village, and right after that, ski jumping, and I never stopped,” said Chappuis, a French customs officer who has scaled the sport’s standings at supersonic speed.
He won two bronze medals at last year’s world championships in Liberec, Czech Republic, where the trio of Todd Lodwick, Billy Demong and Johnny Spillane led the American breakout in the sport long dominated by the Europeans.
Chappuis skipped the Continental Cup circuit altogether. So, when his contemporaries were making stops in Park City or Steamboat Springs, Colo., Chappuis was busy bounding across Europe either on skis or in the air – his other passion is flying airplanes.
So, Chappuis was especially excited for last week’s pit stop in Park City and the French team’s rendezvous with the Americans for a pre-Olympic training camp.
“I’ve always been in the World Cup, so I never jumped in the U.S. before and it was pretty nice,” he said. “We have nice ties with the American team, especially me, with my roots in the U.S., I have lots in common with them. And it’s nice to compete with them.”
Demong said the Americans benefited by having the World Cup leader on hand along with the rest of the French team, which, like the U.S. squad, is on the rise, bringing fresh faces to podiums long crowded with Austrians, Finns, Germans and Norwegians.
“It was awesome to have those guys training in Park City as it helps push us and we had a fun competition where we paired up. … We had a really good jumping competition followed by a two-man relay down at Soldier Hollow,” Demong said in an e-mail. “It was a great way to get everyone kick-started for the games!”
In a sense, it was a thank-you for Chappuis’ hospitality at the World Cup stop in Chaux-Neuve, France, last month.
“We have a great relationship with the French team and also with Jason and his family. He has stopped by to say hi in the summer in Park City on his way north to Montana and his mom cooked us dinner in France several weeks ago,” Demong said.
Even though he has dual citizenship, Chappuis has always skied for France.
Still, he said he would love to share the Olympic podium with some of his American friends starting Sunday when the first of three races, the 10km normal hill event, is held at Whistler.
“Yeah, I am a little bit of a fan of theirs,” Chappuis said. “At our race in Chaux-Neuve, the three Americans were 1-2-3 in the race, they were leading the train and I was just behind them. We were top four, so that was kind of fun.”
Chappuis finished second to Norway’s Magnus Moan that day, and the Americans fell to third, fifth and sixth – their disappointment a testament to how far the U.S. has come since the Turin Games.
“The Americans are pushing hard, and they’re a good team right now,” Chappuis said. “And we are pretty good at the moment, too. That’s good for our sport.”
While Chappuis is a household name in Europe, he is relatively unknown back in Missoula.
“I usually go to my grandparents and my aunts and uncles. They know what I’m doing, but no one else does,” Chappuis said.