“If one day I have cancer, I will know why”

Mathieu Navillod, during practice for the Men's Freestyle Skiing World Cup Moguls Qualifying Event at Deer Valley Resort, Saturday, Jan. 16, 2010, in Park City, Utah.

Mathieu Navillod, now a professional freestyle skier, is a former member of the French team in the mogul category. At 33, twenty-two of whom quid, he is one of the rare athletes to agree to publicly discuss his addiction.

How did you start chewing?

The first time was in class of 6e, in the ski studies section of the college of Bourg-Saint-Maurice, as is the case for most ski chewing addicts. It was to do like the greats, like the stars that I idolized. With friends, we hid in the toilets to take some, even if it was not forbidden like smoking. In ski studies, if we had been caught smoking cigarettes, we would have been fired. For an athlete, chewing tobacco has the merit of not affecting the lungs, and above all, it cannot be seen…

What are the effects?

They are immediate. First it turns your head, then comes the relaxing effect. The worst part is that I found it filthy at first, like all users. It made me nauseous and literally brought me to my knees. But I forced myself to take it. And the addiction set in from the class of 4e.

What level of addiction are we talking about?

I was “stuck” [d’après l’expression « se caler une chique » dans la gencive] day and night, a real drug addict, like a cigarette addict who would smoke cigarette after cigarette. I took it in training, in competition, including in the European Cup, and even at the swimming pool where I wrapped my tobacco ball in paper to make a seal. The brand I chewed, the Makla, contains micro bits of glass, in order to cause tiny incisions in the gums and to make the nicotine penetrate faster into the body via the blood.

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Following the 2010-2011 prevention campaign of the French Ski Federation (FFS), were you asked not to chew in public?

I’ve always done it discreetly. The only time I got caught was when Michel Vion [alors président de la FFS] saw me chewing in a bar. He yelled at me saying that there was an ongoing prevention campaign and that it should no longer be done in public, especially in front of kids, for reasons of setting an example. But otherwise, from the moment the results are there, we leave you alone.

It never hurt the performance, but do you think it could have helped it?

I had the feeling that it changed my behavior in a positive way by de-stressing me. The quid is like the cigarette before going to war, it helps to manage fear and to concentrate.

You stopped a year and a half ago, what do you notice?

I am not weaned. I still put toilet paper and ginger under the gum where a hole has formed. Miraculously, I have nothing in my mouth. But if one day someone tells me that I have bloody arteries or cancer, which wouldn’t surprise me considering all the shit I’ve put in my body, I’ll know why.

Read also: Smokeless tobacco: doping or doping behaviour?

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