“I’ve never done a single triathlon in my life, or even a single race, and I’m tackling the toughest Ironman in the world on Saturday. No, it’s not a punchline taken from a successful American fiction, but the very real trajectory of Xavier Jourson. Namely that of a former professional rugby player trained at LOU, who went through Pro D2 and Federal 1 from 2007 to 2016, and who set himself an insane challenge in 2020: “to become the first black athlete to complete the Norseman” . The 36-year-old Guadeloupean will therefore tackle, on Saturday in Norway, the challenge of a lifetime: to be part of the heroics finishers of a race bringing together 311 triathletes who had to complete a 3.8 km swim (departure from a boat at 4:30 a.m. in a fjord), 180 km of cycling and 42 km of running, i.e. 5,235 m of elevation gain in total.
This crazy idea originated at the start of the Covid-19 period, when Xavier Jourson, who had left France to become a trader in Montreal three years earlier, came across the book Find Ultra by Rich Roll. The story of this former alcoholic lawyer who took part in the Hawaiian Ultraman immediately inspired him. While he maintains himself at the gym, on the basketball courts and while running a little, he decides to invest in a bicycle.
“They’re sick of writing ‘It’s not for you'”
“When I wanted to buy it in Montreal, the seller was surprised that I wanted to take up cycling,” he recalls. It touched my pride and I changed stores, but it was the same elsewhere. I realized they must never have seen a 120kg black guy wanting a race bike. “Not enough to make our fellow hesitate, quite the contrary. Then comes the second stage of the rocket in April 2020.
In the evening, a friend said to me: “Xavier, you’ve been cycling for three months, you’ve lost weight, you’re vegan. That’s cool, but what’s the next step? Hey, do you know the Norseman? “It was 3:30 a.m., we were a little tipsy. I connect to the site of this thing and I see written immediately “It’s not for you”. They are sick of writing that! I work like this: as long as I’m not told that it’s impossible and that I’m going to fail, I have no interest in doing it. So there, without knowing anything about this race, I immediately announce that I will do it. »
The Transition, as this former third line of 1.88 m names his XXL challenge, is acquired for more than two years, with twenty-two hours of training per week on average, and an absolute priority fixed on swimming. All under the orders of George Gay (56), vice-president of the Quebec triathlon federation, and one of the very few black triathletes to complete four Ironman races in the 2000s. “When Xavier contacted me, I immediately recognized myself in his ambition and his determination, confides this one. I see him as a little brother. »
Exchanges with Lilian Thuram and a letter from Lance Armstrong
His training pace makes him melt from 120 to 97 kg, which is not without causing frequent injuries (knee, arm, shoulder). It takes him a year to really be able to stay more than 7 consecutive hours on a bike. Xavier Jourson goes so far as to take… ballet lessons to optimize his toes, in order to help him with the swimming part. “I quickly told myself that what I was doing was”damn“. So we might as well go on a documentary that tells this whole story. ” So ahead for a shoot in August 2020 in Percé, where he sees things big by renting a boat, helicopter, and surrounding himself with a director, to have filmed swimming sequences.
Before these few days in Norway, where he is accompanied by a dozen people, in particular to be filmed in kayaks, motorcycles and helicopters, Xavier Jourson knows that he has invested exactly 56,123 dollars out of his pocket in this project. ” Fucked up So, like his regular exchanges around his project with former footballer Lilian Thuram and actor Saïd Taghmaoui. He even receives an email from Lance Armstrong, delighted to have been one of his sources of inspiration. “I need heroic figures and Lilian Thuram helped me on all the sociological part, in order to change mores”, he specifies.
“It was dead, but I knew I was going to do it”
Because Xavier Jourson does not intend to be satisfied with the sporting dimension: he wants his challenge to be also entrepreneurial and societal, especially after the death of the African-American George Floyd, killed by a police officer on May 25, 2020 in Minneapolis. “This race is the way to succeed that I can break stereotypes about the black community with actions, especially on swimming. I designed my project like this to allow a lot of people to identify with it. My goal in all this is not to make me foam but to transmit and raise awareness. Barack Obama made blacks realize that they could become president one day. It’s the same thing I experience doing the Norseman. »
With his performance, he will therefore try to further open up a discipline “with a very closed ecosystem”. That’s why he assumes his choice to include sports legends like Mohamed Ali and Jesse Owens in his documentary teaser, scheduled for the beginning of 2023. But by the way, why can he take the start of the formidable and oh how much did Norseman take, when he hadn’t garnered points upstream allowing a sporting qualification, nor even tried in the right timing to be drawn?
It was dead, but I knew I was going to do it anyway. For a year and a half, I was chatting with Castelli and Strava. I was even getting partnership contracts, but I still wasn’t registered. I played “all in” and it smiled on me in November 2021, when I finally convinced the general manager of the race Dag Oliver to give me my sesame. And why is my project viable in his eyes? Because I’m black. »
“Twice as much hell” on a bike than on Alpe d’Huez
Like an ironic wink, after all the closed doors that Xavier has faced in his life because of his skin color. How worried is the ex-rugby player before embarking on this challenge for which nothing intended him? He feels “more and more serene” for the crucial swimming test (3.8 km in water expected to be around 12°C) which he will have to complete in less than 2h15, under penalty of being immediately eliminated. Then he will climb on his bike, a year after having clung to the first pass of his life, the Alpe d’Huez (in 1h40).
“I know it will be twice as hell on the Norseman, because I will be entitled to five out-of-category passes, including one of 33 terminals, in 180 km of cycling”, specifies the one who was the godfather of Amos Sport Business School in Lyon in 2021-2022. Followed in particular by Trek, Castelli, Strava and Arena, “big brands that have understood the societal impact of my project”, Xavier Jourson has a fear before D-Day: “What I find cruel is that you can explode in the water after 30 minutes despite enormous preparation”. His coach Georges Gay, present at his side this week in Norway, recognizes that this pre-Norseman could have been different.
The black jersey, a symbolism on the cake
“Sportingly, it might have been better to start the competition with smaller triathlons. But sometimes, to best achieve your goal and change a situation, you have to push things to the extreme. Xavier has already reduced thousands of gates in two years and just by being at the start on Saturday, he will make it possible to democratize this sport among black athletes. But it is certain that the societal effect will be even greater if he manages the feat of finishing this race. »
For his part, Xavier Jourson is always dreaming bigger, like a second documentary (secret) that he is already preparing in parallel for 2023. Don’t talk to him about the white jersey reserved for finishers ranked beyond 160th place. It is seen in the 160 “privileged” who can access the famous Mount Gaustatoppen (1,883 m) on foot, via a terrible final ascent of 17 km. “I have to blow up this black T-shirt, ignites the West Indian athlete. Finishing the race is the ultimate goal. But I gave too much and I want too much. It’s a real personal test, and even the main event of my sports career. “A black jersey, after 18 hours of racing and two and a half years of sacrifice, like a symbol on the cake.