Gold medallists at the Beijing Paralympics in 2008, Michael Jeremiasz and Stephan Hooded, the French doubles partnership in wheelchair tennis, now have only one wish: to get the little sister. The perfect opportunity to exchange a few words about France, Britain and the eroticism of the Olympic Village…
How was the reception upon your arrival in London?
MJ: Amazing! There's a unique passion surrounding the event here. The village is not as glitzy as in Beijing. Smaller, but on a human scale, much warmer and with an alcohol-free pub in the village centre. We could live here, see mates from the house across the street, have a drink, and hang out.
What do you mean not as glitzy?
MJ: Beijing was just huge! Everything was perfect, too perfect, maybe. Too sanitized.
SH: I don’t think so. Don't try, his recent marriage makes him say crap... I loved Beijing! I don't know if the Chinese's idea was to show us how good they are at organization but, to take a random example, there were soap, shampoo, beauty products galore. It's the same thing here, but with a lower dose. Moreover, when we arrived, we got our toilet kits but there was nothing inside. Surprise! We asked and we got it. But first, we were told to go to the supermarket to buy some...
Gold medallist in Barcelona in 1992, the Swiss Marc Rosset tells with humour the shock a tennis player who enters an Olympic delegation may feel. A kind of "human zoo”, he said. “The wrestler is the gorilla; the volleyball player is the giraffe, the athletics' gazelle, the little one, the big one... "
SH: (He cuts the sentence) this is even more like a zoo in the Paralympics... The differences are incredible. (Laughs) Here it's Disneyland! It's a village with a lot of nice organizers, some puppets and no money. And no alcohol either! They are fairly strict about it: there are two athletes from a foreign delegation that I won't name who took a £418 fine for smoking a cigarette on their balcony.
MJ: At Disneyland it's the same, you're not allowed to smoke!
SH: But however, in terms of bedroom sport –because apparently it's the subject- it's true that after two days of competition, some have already finished and can then let loose. A break that Michael can talk about, he’s a professional...
MJ: Well... Not in London because I got married recently. So therefore it wasn't one of my goals. But at Athens and in Beijing, the party side, yes I did it. I had a blast. Like many men and women around the world who, for years, work hard and sacrifice a lot to get there. Like yesterday, Christine Schoenn, the only French representative in tennis, had condoms. So we looked at her and said: "Wait Christine, don't you think that you're being a little greedy here?" But no, she didn't buy them; it's actually the federations that give condoms to all their athletes. In short, the Games are a big party.
More seriously, do you feel a real difference in the integration of disabled people here in England compared to France?
MJ: The athletes’ treatment at the Paralympics is a bit like that of disabled people in society at large. We don't feel this worried, condescending look, which still happens today in France. Here, it’s not a social event but, above all, a sports event. You really feel a difference in the understanding of disability.
How do you explain it?
SH: Catholics against Protestants... Or Anglo-Saxons against Latins.
MJ: No, I don't think that it's a religious issue. But the Anglo-Saxons deal with minorities more equitably than the Latin countries.
SH: Actually, they have a dynamic approach to people where in France, we preserve a more compassionate approach.
Title-holders after the gold medal in Beijing in 2008, respectively number one, Michael, and two, Stephan, worldwide in doubles; the path to gold is laid out for you...
SH: We have a difficult position to handle, but it makes us laugh. We're pretentious idiots (laughs)!
MJ: Especially you, by the way... But it's true that this is a very nice status.
SH: It's also a way for us not to take ourselves seriously, not to say that we are constantly, in quotation marks “the best in the world”. It also gives us strength. And it works with the opponents!
MJ: We will especially try to win a second gold medal in a row, which has never been done in the Paralympics.
The journalists nicknamed you the "Bryan brothers" of wheelchair tennis. But it's more like a little couple...
SH: Exactly. The Bryan brothers are identical twins. Us, we use to say that there’s black and white. Our team is built on differences in points of view, on discussion: "Ok, you see things like that, me I see them like this. How can we make sure our black and white become well... grey?" Golden grey. For a gold medal!
How would you describe your complementarity on the court?
SH: Sadomasochist! There's a gap between what we are in life and on the court.
MJ: (He cuts) I'm the laid back guy... On the court, I'm very focused, perhaps too much, Stephan, on the other hand, needs keep things light. His specialty is to say as much bullshit as he can.
What kind of bullshit?
MJ: This year, in the World Cup, we were playing against Holland in the final, a team that beat us last year. So it was important for us to take our revenge. We spent a week as players with our new coach and the staff. Stephan was in a great frenzy, he gave the impression of being in a holiday camp. Stephan, what were you singing?
SH: "Est-ce que tu viens pour les vacances, moi je n’ai pas changé d’adresse…” (A lame song by French duo David and Jonathan – Link: http://youtu.be/7_tBywQ3z3g)
MJ: Well, that's what he was singing. Between points. I put a lot of pressure on myself, I want to do the job well. And, him, he's singing, playing the idiot with the coach and provoking me... I’m the kind of person who gets distracted easily. But that’s how he actually gets into the game!
As weird as it may seem, you said, Stephan, that the accident was "a chance" for you. And Michaël, , a "catalyst, which allows me to live a childhood dream." You are talking about tennis, right?
MJ: The accident itself, nobody wants that. For me to become a paraplegic, and Stephan to lose a leg in an accident, nobody wants that, of course. But if the price to pay is to have had an accident, I think Stephen is right, we would do it again! In a different way... I would maybe think twice before taking that bump and Stephane before passing that car on the motorway, but yes, the life we have today is exceptional. We’re showing off because we are the world's best players in wheelchairs whereas, prior to our accidents, we were just club players!
It’s a bit of a silly thought, but can you assess at what ranking you would beat an able-bodied player?
SH: You, what's your ranking?
In the past, something like 30/1...
MJ: Well you would take a bashing against the world number one in wheelchair!
SH: I found an old school mate who was regional champion of the Loire Valley and perform today 15/2. He brought a friend who was 15/1. And I beat both of them... However, if you put the guy standing, rollerblading, you can get ever further. The highest ranked. It simply isn't the same sport.
Interview by Victor Le Grand