Madagascar's first female Olympic skier is taking the sport to new altitudes

(Courtesy of AFP La Croix)

(Courtesy of AFP La Croix)

From Antananarivo to the 2018 Winter Olympics, 17-year-old Mialitiana Clerc has made history on the slopes.

Soon after Mialitiana “Mia” Clerc learned to walk and talk, her father put her on her first pair of skis. “I didn’t know how to stop so I was going straight and I was scared all the time,” she remembers of her 3-year-old self. But Mia quickly mastered the basics — and her skiing career took off from there. At age 9, she began racing competitively. At age 16, she became the first female athlete to represent Madagascar at the Winter Olympics.

Born in Antananarivo, Madagascar, Mia was adopted as a baby by Stephane Clerc and Sylvie Regat, a couple from France. Mia grew up skiing in the French Alps under the guidance of her father, Stephane, who is now her head coach. After competing with her local team, Inter Club Magland Desert Blanc, she joined the competitive international alpine skiing circuit in 2017 and qualified for the Pyeongchang Olympics in 2018.

Now 17 years old, the rising star balances her trainings with her university studies. In between ski runs and homework, I spoke with Mia about her passion for the sport, her hopes for the future and how she navigates uncharted territory — both on and off the slopes.

Omolara Uthman (OU): What do you like the most about skiing?

Mialitiana Clerc (MC): What I like about skiing is going fast and feeling good. When you have trained for an entire season for all of the conditions you will have to face during the races, you know that when skiing in a demanding route — with snow that isn’t pleasant to ski, with bad weather or whatever — you will still ski well and succeed. 

OU: Tell me about participating in the 2018 Olympic Games. What did it mean to you to represent Madagascar at such a big sporting event? 

MC: Participating in the Winter Olympic Games was an incredible experience. I will never forget my trip to South Korea to race with the best skiers in the world. Everything was different from the races I’ve been able to do so far — the atmosphere, meeting athletes from all disciplines of winter sports, discovering the country.

It was an honour for me to be the first Malagasy woman to join the Malagasy Ski Federation and to represent Madagascar at the Winter Olympic Games. And to bear the flag was even better! It was unexpected since I did not plan to participate in the Olympic Games at first. But I hope to inspire young Malagasy who wish to reach the highest level in all sports.

(Courtesy of Sean M. Haffey / Getty Images)

(Courtesy of Sean M. Haffey / Getty Images)

OU: What do you think about during your races? How do you cope with the pressure of competition?

MC: You have to know how to concentrate and be attentive to everything that happens during a race, but you also have to know how to relax, think about something else so you don’t get tired. Often it helps to talk with others, to listen to music or to do something other than think about the race so you don’t destroy yourself mentally. Being alone in a corner and thinking back to the corner is good as well.

OU: What does your training consist of?

MC: Outside of the workshops I attended with Mont Blanc [a Federation de Ski Française team that brings young skiers from the Haute Savoie region together], I spend most of the time at the weight room near my home. I do several different types of exercises including balance, proprioception [awareness of the position and movement of the body], flexibility, developing muscles and explosiveness. I also walk with my family, run and Rollerblade, many activities that allow me to step out of my comfort zone and change up the usual activities.

During the training season, my days are organised and there is a routine. I wake up early in the morning, train from 8 a.m. to around 12 p.m. during which I complete eight to 15 runs. Then, I eat, take a nap for no more than an hour. I do a sport session — skating, support session, jumps, sprints, running, walking, etc. Then I watch my ski videos, eat and go to bed. In the meantime, if I have time to work, I do it and there are some days where I am more tired so sometimes I do not do anything in the afternoon.

OU: Tell me about balancing your skiing career with your studies. Why is it important for you to continue your education?

MC: Currently, I am getting my bachelor’s degree in SGMT [a science and technology track at French universities]. I spent a part of this year doing that and I will finish the other next year. After that, I think I’ll have a sabbatical year to devote myself to skiing and plan out the next few years. I hope to continue my studies from home so I don’t have to slow down my pace for skiing but because of the job that I want to do at the end of my career as skier, I need to take this class to continue. I want to become a stylist and create my own brand of clothing.

OU: Aside from skiing, what do you do for fun? 

MC: I am, in a way, an artist. By this I mean that I like music, art, etc. I play a lot of music and I sing at the same time. I dance also. I used to take classes as a child but unfortunately stopped everything for skiing. I like ice skating, I like drawing, painting and DIY projects. I do other sports with my family like walking in the mountains, running, cycling and going to the weight room. Not long ago, I also started photography and I like it a lot! I would like to learn how to cook as I have this passion for cooking.

This interview was conducted in French and translated to English.

This piece is also available in French.

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About the author

Omolara Uthman is a Malala Fund editorial intern and student at Johns Hopkins University. In her free time, she enjoys reading, writing and food photography.