'I am feeling good and excited'
Charlotte Bankes is riding the crest of a wave as she prepares to compete in February’s Winter Olympics.
In January, snowboarder Charlotte collected her second and third World Cup gold medals of the season, and her fourth podium in five races, at the Snowboard Cross World Cup in the Russian resort of Krasnoyarsk.
It will not go unnoticed that, in both her races, Charlotte managed to hold France’s Chloé Trespeuch in second place, and now stands 99 points clear in the overall World Cup standings.
Charlotte, 26, is now in an excellent position heading into the Winter Olympics, where she will compete in her first race on February 9.
“We have done all the hard training for the Olympics. It is now the little details that we are working on. I am feeling good and excited,” she said from her home in Puy-Saint-Vincent in the Hautes-Alpes.
It is not the first time Charlotte has competed in the Winter Olympics, but it will be her first Games representing Great Britain.
Her previous two appearances – first in Sochi, Russia, in 2014, and then in Pyeongchang, South Korea, in 2018, where she finished 7th – were under the French flag.
Her brother Tom has also skied for France – while brother William has represented Great Britain.
After a period of frustration and disenchantment with the sport following an injury, Charlotte, who has both British and French nationality, decided to switch camps and started training with Team GB Snowsport.
“I decided to move over when the French system was not working for me anymore. I was considering stopping the sport altogether as I was not really enjoying snowboarding. It was a case of either giving up or trying another option.”
Growing up in France
Charlotte and her family came to the Hautes-Alpes from Hemel Hempstead in 1999, when she was just four years old. With two older brothers who were keen skiers, she was already comfortable on snow and soon took up snowboarding, following in the footsteps of her siblings.
She started competing internationally for France in 2010 at the age of 15, but the following year a crash left her with a pelvic fracture. It caused continuing pain and meant she was unable to train consistently for a number of years.
Charlotte realises she is extremely fortunate to have had doors opened to her. Growing up in her ski-mad family, she and her brother William skied for France as it “made sense”.
“I was in the French schooling system and my brothers and I got French nationality around that time. It was easy to go down that path,” she says.
Charlotte, who still calls France her home, went to local schools and, like thousands of other children, joined a ski club.
“My parents made an effort to make sure we were integrated into the local community. They wanted us to live here and totally immerse ourselves in life. We did not go to an international school, or anything like that.
“We lived 15 minutes from the nearest resort so we skied and snowboarded with the ski club every Wednesday afternoon and Saturday. The ski clubs were very dynamic. From secondary school, we were in a special class where we also had an hour extra one afternoon, and then during lycée we went to Villard-de-Lans just above Grenoble, where we were in sports études.”
Sports études is a programme offered in many French state schools where pupils with a particular sporting talent follow a condensed academic timetable around their training. They are given extra support by the school to help achieve their goals, both in their chosen sport and the classroom.
Switching from team France to team GB
Charlotte moved from the French team to Team GB after her coach, Jérôme Choupin, also changed camps. He is still her trainer today.
“The UK team was much more performance-based and really supportive.
“I had been suffering from pain in my hip, which meant I was not able to train properly. So my main aim when I started with the British team was to sort out the health problems. With the UK team, the athlete comes first.
“And it is a smaller team, which meant that my training was more specific to my needs.”
Charlotte believes the fact that she is British, despite having grown up in France, has probably played a part in how successfully she has adapted to training under a new flag.
“I feel very British,” she says, “which is also perhaps why the British system works better for me. That is my culture. We have always spoken English at home, even when we were totally integrated into the French community.”
However, she appreciates that she owes much of her success to living in the French Alps.
“I am really happy to have been able to grow up in the mountains. Home is still in France.
“It was a massive chance for me, moving here when I was so young. I am very happy and grateful that my parents made the decision to come.”