HYERES: Frenchman Axel Mazella has not yet officially secured a spot for the 2024 Olympics but he is still excited that kiteboarding will make its debut at the Paris Games.
The 24-year-old Mazella, a double kitefoil world champion in 2017 and 2019, is part of a dominant France team that will be looking to shine on home waters in Marseille.
"We have this huge advantage compared to others countries that we have a a big French team. We have 10 athletes who are the best worldwide," coach Arianne Imbert told Reuters.
"We have four men in the top six in the world. They are able to train together, to compete against each other and improve while some other countries may have only one team member."
At the Olympics, kiteboarding will have a kitefoil mixed relay race, with the kiters standing on a surfboard powered by their kite as they hit a speed of 35 knots (65 kph).
"We have to be stable as we only stand on a stick, a carbon piece under our feet - we're on a tightrope," said Mazella, who has just passed his physiotherapist degree.
"The first time I went on a kitefoil I felt like I was flying. When you don't touch the water you feel like you're on a cloud.
"When you don't hit the water anymore there is no noise, it feels great. It's like being in a dream."
The France team for the Olympics will be selected over a series of world events between Nov. 2023 and May 2024.
"Being at the Olympics is a good thing for our sport, it will make it more accessible," said Mazella.
France are expected to be favourites as kitefoil was born in the country where kiters are close to a professional level.
"Kite foil was born in France so we were like the precursors of this activity," said Imbert.
"France won recognition before other countries as we quickly reached a high level with physiotherapists and dedicated coaches during the competitions."
(Writing by Julien Pretot; Editing by Ken Ferris)