Meriem Salmi, the secret weapon of champions

Meriem Salmi, at the Maison de la radio, in Paris, November 22, 2022.

Neither sign on the street side nor indication upstairs, Meriem Salmi’s office, in 8e Parisian district, cultivates discretion. It is from this Haussmannian cocoon with windows framed by long purple curtains that the clinical psychologist, author of Believe in your dreams and find your way (Fayard, 2018), prefaced by his most emblematic patient, judoka Teddy Riner. “This is one of the most important meetings of my life, said the multi-medal champion. I crossed paths with her when I was 14, I’m 34. She helped me grow and I still work with her on many aspects of my life. »

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Their first contact took place at the National Institute of Sport, Expertise and Performance (Insep), in Paris, the training center for the French sporting elite where Meriem Salmi was responsible for psychological monitoring in the medical service, from 2000 to 2013, then expert to general management and the Olympic team, from 2017 to 2021. Dozens of high-level athletes still consult her.

Convinced of the link between mental health, well-being and sporting performance, Meriem Salmi, now 61, is delighted with the direction she chose when she was 18. “At the time, everything interested me, science, mathematics, she says. I remember my registration in psychology at [l’université de] Jussieu [à Paris] whereas, for my family, it was a soft, unrecognized science. But I am curious about everything and have never stopped learning since then to broaden my practice. » The young graduate will start with psychoanalysis – “only theutic method existing in my generation”, she specifies – and will continue with cognitive behavioral therapies, systemic (study of man and his environment, advocated by the American anthropologist and psychologist Gregory Bateson), mindfulness meditation and, finally, neuroscience . “My approach follows a scientific logic: identify problems, analyze them then develop strategies to find solutions”believes Meriem Salmi.

“Not seen well before”

The eleven world titles judoka’s declared recourse to his theutic help has broken a taboo in high-level French sport. “Such follow-up was not well seen before, it was proof of weakness”, explains Brigitte Deydier, triple world champion in judo in the 1980s. Once she became national technical director (DTN) in 2005, the latter, with a host of other DTNs (Ghani Yalouz in athletics, Dominique Nato in boxing …), the medical director of Insep (Eric Joussellin) and the president of the National Olympic Committee (Henri Sérandour) obtained that Meriem Salmi was included, in 2008, in the French medical delegation at the Olympic village in Beijing during the Games. “Athletes, coaches but also DTNs and federation presidents then consulted it”, remembers Eric Joussellin. However, we will have to wait thirteen years, in 2021, i.e. Tokyo 2020, for her to once again join the French delegation, for the benefit of all.

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