BAÏST Ambassador Spotlight
Bringing BAÏST to the Beijing Olympics
Mialitiana “Mia” Clerc made history as the first female Winter Olympian from Madagascar. She’s living her BAÏST life at the Beijing Winter Olympics.
By Owen Clarke -
It’s a bit strange hearing that a tropical, island African nation is fielding an Olympic skier. After all, Madagascar doesn’t have a single ski resort. Temperatures along the coast are regularly in the 80s, and even in the central mountains, temperatures rarely drop below 60°F. Cool Runnings, anyone?
But Madagascar's Mialitiana “Mia” Clerc didn’t always ski for her home country.
Five years ago, the now 20-year-old skier was still skiing for France, where she was raised after being adopted from Madagascar at the age of one.
Eventually, she decided that even though she was raised in France by a French family and learned to ski on French slopes, her true dreams lay in representing her birth country.
She went on to become the first female Winter Olympian in history to ski for Madagascar at the 2018 PyeongChang Games (and her country’s only competitor to enter the entire Games, in fact).
Now, she’s carrying on that legacy at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games, proudly repping BAÏST all the while. She remains her nation’s only female skier in the competition, and, along with male skier Mathieu Neumuller, the only Winter Olympian from her country in the 2022 Games.
Originally, Clerc wasn’t even aware that she could represent Madagascar, having spent most of her life in France. After her adoption by a French couple, she began skiing at the age of three. “My dad taught me how to go down the slopes, how to stop and control my skis, and how to take the chairlifts and bar,” she said.
The training from a young age paid off. By eight, she was already a hotshot, and competing in French alpine ski competitions. “I wanted to become a very good skier when I was still representing France, but it was really hard and I felt like I didn’t have any chance to reach a high level and to achieve my goals,” she said.
Once she became aware that she could represent her birth country, however, she decided that France had enough Olympic skiers. Representing Madagascar was both her way to stick out from the crowd and to honor her heritage at the same time. She wanted to give the people of her home nation someone to cheer for.
Though she hopes to continue to advance as a skier and believes her switch to Madagascar can give her the breathing room to facilitate that, above all else, “I really want to show people that I’m proud of Madagascar,” Clerc said.
“I want to make all the Malagasy people proud of me, and I want to become the first Malagasy to make World Cup podiums.”
Although it’s been a different experience representing Madagascar, “I know that I made the right choice,” she said, noting that it doesn’t limit her in the slightest. She still lives and trains in France, near Chamonix (since Madagascar has no snow). She thinks of her home in France as something nearing paradise, noting the spectacular mountains in her backyard “and a lot of fresh snow” nearby.
“I have everything in France that makes me happy, and I think that my biological family wanted this for me,” she said.
So, even though she’s technically representing Madagascar, her training isn’t limited in the slightest. “I can travel everywhere I want with my father or my coaches, I can still do a lot of different events like the Olympics, the World Ski Championships, and the World Cup.”
She just gives her home nation a rare winter athlete they can root for.
It hasn’t always been easy, though. Clerc has had to overcome several brutal injuries, most recently a tibia and fibula break just last year. “I did only nine races and then the season was finished for me,” she said. “It was really long and hard coming back on skis.” Just getting herself back onto her skis again took her six and a half months.
It wasn’t just physically tough, but mentally tough, too. “It was hard for my head and hard for my body,” she said, “because I wanted to do a lot of things without worrying about my leg but I still constantly had painful moments. When I did my first days of skiing [post-injury], it was really special and strange. The first 20 days, actually, were extremely painful.” At the same time, Clerc went through a coaching change, leaving her coach of three years, which added to the difficulty of her recovery.
She said the switch from skiing for France to skiing for Madagascar has shown her, above all else, however, that there are no limits to what she can accomplish. “Now I know that I can [achieve my dreams] and I’ll do everything to make those dreams come true,” she said.
Although she’s only 20, she has a laundry list of skiing memories that she’s proud of. From racing and traveling in South America, South Africa, Sweden, and Norway for ski camps to attending her first Olympics in South Korea and now in China, Clerc found it impossible to pick just one memory that stood out.
“There’s also the World Ski Championships in Åre [Sweden], that were so cool as well,” she added. “In South America, I was racing in Chile and Argentina and I really want to go back there because it’s beautiful, I feel so good when I’m there.” She especially loved the slow, laidback pace of life in South America, she said, but more importantly “won the South American Cup in Slalom, so I’ll never forget it.”
Clerc’s relationship with BAÏST, she said, is “special,” and she’s drawn both to the design and the warmth of her BAÏST gloves and mitts.
Temperatures and conditions in Beijing have been notoriously brutal this year, with the men’s downhill skiing comp already postponed due to high winds and multiple athletes coming down with frostbite. Temperatures have been “dipping toward zero” and winds are reportedly up to 40 miles per hour.
As American freestyle skier Bradley Wilson, who caught frostbite himself, told the Los Angeles Times, “It’s definitely been cold-cold.”
Despite the rock-bottom temperatures and epic winds, Clerc said that with BAÏST on her hands, “I have never once felt cold,” throughout the entirety of her Beijing trip.
“My hands are warm from the beginning of the day until the end of training,” she said.
Owen Clarke is an adventure travel journalist. He is a columnist for Rock & Ice, Gym Climber, and The Outdoor Journal. He also writes for Friction Labs. In his free time, he is an avid motorcyclist and mountaineer.
Follow him on Instagram at @opops13