For me, skiing was like taming a horse.
Joan Verdú (27) takes a seat, opens his anorak and shows me the belt that wraps around his abdomen and lower back:
-It's just that I'm cracked in the back.
But you can compete, right?
(How is he going to give up the honor that awaits him this Saturday, on the Avet track in Grandvalira? There he is going to compete for the giant: he is going to become the first Andorran in the finals of the Alpine Ski World Cup).
This is how elite athletes live. They live in pain.
The pain is always there. And sometimes it is insurmountable. When that happens, the horizon clouds over.
–What I feel now are a little discomfort. But I still remember those terrible days... –she tells me now.
I've had four knee surgeries. I have torn my cruciate ligaments twice. The last one, barely two and a half years ago. And recover from it...
–Had you ever thought about quitting?
–In skiing, the knees are everything. And those operations give a lot to think about. I suppose that if I am who I am, it is thanks to the learning that I have experienced with these injuries. But I've been down. I thought that perhaps I had already given my maximum and that what came next was not going to compensate me. He told me: 'What if I quit?'
What were those days like?
-I see myself in bed, with a stiff leg. The rivals grew and gained points and I, blocked. I came to disconnect, I couldn't even have a normal life. I spent two months in France, interned in Capbreton, absent from the world and focused on my recovery. 24 hours a day he was in rehabilitation, controlling food and rest.
Who was covering that?
–The Andorran Federation, the sponsors... My parents took me by car. When they left me there, they asked me: 'If you need us to come pick you up, let me know.'
-It was necessary?
–Evading there, I found myself again. I identified with the environment. We were many athletes in that state. There were other skiers, rugby players; many were French. A soldier had broken both heels...
-And how did you talk?
–I speak English, French, Spanish, Catalan... Whatever you want.
–Do your languages come from school?
–French and English are integrated into our schools in Andorra. And my parents have always pushed me to study.
Joan Verdú tells me that his parents, Joan and Àngels, are ski “fans”. But, also, humble people who work in an insurance company (the father) and in a clothing store (the mother), and who understand that the future lies in their studies, beyond sports.
–My parents have always pushed me with my studies. They know that a sports career can be cut short by injury or poor performance. And that they taught me to ski! On weekends they took us to Pas de la Casa or Grau Roig. We were half an hour from Andorra La Vella. They took me and my two brothers, Anna and Gerard,” she says.
And what happened to his brothers?
–They did not delve into skiing as I have. Anna is a lawyer and Gerard is a computer scientist.
–I am finishing ADE. Having the title will give me peace of mind for the future. But I was never the best in studies.
–And when did you see that you were going to have a future as a skier?
–It was 2012, the Youth Games in Innsbruck. They are the equivalent of the U-18 World Cup. I was third in the Super-G. I beat people like Marco Schwarz (the Austrian has five World Cup victories, 18 podiums in total, and one Olympic silver...). That coincided with the beginning of an elite project for Andorran skiing, a kind of free baccalaureate. We trained daily and studied remotely, with exams in the summer.
And the parents...
My parents didn't see it clearly. My negotiations with them were intense...
Today, Joan Verdú has a team of four assistants: Joan Lago is the coach; Andrea Peretti, the skiman; Damià is his physical trainer and Pol, his physio and his friend since childhood.
(In the last Winter Games, in Beijing 2022, Joan Verdú had been ninth in the giant; "I was half a second off the podium!", he shouts as a farewell).