He left the last Olympics, at age 37, with a personal-best 18th place, and naturally, with thoughts of retirement.
He entered these Games almost five years older than the oldest Olympic medalist in his sport’s history, and did he think he had a chance to set a new mark?
He shook his head.
“Not at all,” he said.
Nor did anybody at the National Alpine Ski Center when Clarey, a Frenchman wearing Bib 19, climbed into the start house, midway through the men’s downhill, behind all the best racers in the world. Switzerland’s Beat Feuz had thrown down the time to beat. Within a second of him were Austria’s Matthias Mayer, and Norway’s Aleksander Aamodt Kilde, and Italy’s Dominik Paris, and Switzerland’s Marco Odermatt, men whom Clarey had spent many winters finishing behind.
So Clarey went for it. He pushed. He took risks. He had nothing to lose. “I knew I had only one chance left in my career to get a medal in the Olympics.”
And he got it.
He crossed the line, and looked up, and saw himself a tenth of a second behind Feuz, in second place, “it was just an unbelievable feeling.” At a news conference afterward, his wind-worn face, sheathed in a scruffy beard, beamed.
He is 41 years and 30 days old, grandfatherly compared to former old-man record holder Bode Miller’s 36 years and 127 days in 2014. Clarey is the elder statesman on the World Cup circuit. And there were times, even before the 2018 Olympics, that he thought he wouldn’t last nearly this long.
“I had doubt,” he said. “I have [been] doubting my career after I was 35 years old.”
He persisted, making decisions to continue year by year. But over 17 seasons, he never finished in a World Cup top three, in any Alpine discipline, and never won an individual race. And he’d come to terms with the likelihood that he might never win one.
“I’ve thought about it, but now, it’s not an absolute goal,” he said last month. “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.”
It became a remote possibility, though, because Clarey somehow got better with age. He was 16th in the downhill standings in 2015, when he considered giving up. But then he was 15th in 2016, 10th in 2017, eighth in 2019 and fourth last year. He felt better than ever. At age 38, he finally won a World Championship medal.
He began setting all kinds of “oldest to” records, but this one seemed out of reach. The Olympic field was too deep. “You have to beat a lot of super champions,” Clarey said.
But he has waited for many things in life. He got married at age 40. “I’ve made everything late,” he said. “Since I was a young boy. That’s why my mother say, I take extra time to do everything. Walking, speaking, everything.
“Apparently,” he concluded, “for my sport career, it’s quite the same.”
According to sports.yahoo.com. Source of photo: internet