France has a population of about 63 million but, according to Quentin Fercoq, you could fit every one of the country’s Short Track Speed Skating participants into a small theater. “It is a very little sport in France,” the French racer said. “It is not known. We have a small federation. Including everyone aged from two to 50 that is doing it, there can’t be more than 500 people.”
Despite this, from its training base at Font-Romeu in the Pyrenees, France has produced a steady stream of athletes capable of competing on the world stage. Fercoq, 22, regularly enjoys top 10 finishes, while Sebastien Lepape, 30, is another consistent performer, having reached a number of World Cup podiums. Perhaps most exciting of all, however, has been the rise of Tifany Huot-Marchand.
Quentin Fercoq of France at the ISU World Cup Short Track in Debrecen, Hungary © International Skating Union (ISU)
Since the PyeongChang 2018 Olympics, the 27-year-old has improved dramatically, winning silver in the Women’s 1000m at the 2019 European Championships and making her first World Cup podium appearance in an individual event after taking bronze in the 1500m at Dresden in 2019/20. “It’s been a great few seasons for me,” she said. “And with the Olympics coming, that is really important.”
Huot-Marchand has a master’s degree in education from the University of Grenoble and is interested in pursuing teaching – but for now is focused on Beijing. “In France we would really love to get three spots for each distance in the Olympics but I think it will be complicated. Two spots would still be great, and I like the 1500m best – and of course the Relay.”
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It is as a collective where the French really impress. Their Women’s Relay team is excellent, winning gold at the 2021 European Championships and silver at the 2021 World Championships.
“Our Relay is looking great,” Huot-Marchand said. “We have a lot of good young skaters. We are friends, we work well together and we have different specialisms, which I think helps. We have two sprinters and two long distance specialists, and I think it works well.”
But France’s greatest chance of that dream Olympic medal perhaps lies in the sport’s newest discipline: the Mixed Relay. Fercoq, Lepape, Huot-Marchand and Aurelie Monvoisin have melded into a formidable unit full of coordinated power and pace.
Tifany Huot-Marchand (FRA) in action at the ISU World Cup Short Track in Debrecen, Hungary © International Skating Union (ISU)
“The Mixed Relay team is maybe our highest objective,” Fercoq said. “As a team, we can do something, and the dream is the podium in Beijing. We train a lot together for this.”
Lepape – at 1.89m (6ft 2 inches), one of the tallest skaters on the circuit – is their key weapon. “He is very big so he has a very good push,” Huot-Marchand said. “The only problem is that it’s then difficult for us girls to push him. But I am doing some arm weights to help me get stronger and better at that.”
They hope the result can show that Short Track in France is small but mighty. “It’s more complicated for us because we are not a big set-up but we have a good center, good staff, a good coach,” Huot-Marchand said. “We think we can do something.”