Seven years ago at the Squaw Valley Olympics the French astonished the ski set with their "egg position" racing stance—and now, sitting on the floor in what looks vaguely like a lotus position, World Champion Jean-Claude Killy has another French secret that could be just as revolutionary. "You cannot win races if you are not relaxed," he says. And to relax, the French team has turned to yoga. Well, not really yoga, but a sort of mini-yoga, aimed at keeping the mind loose and the body limber.
French National Team Coach Honoré Bonnet fathered the method and insists, "We are not fakirs. The purpose is to liberate the mind and relax the body." Each racer, he says, does as much yoga as he needs. Killy and his tiny teammate, Annie Famose, take half an hour before dinner each day. Exercises are all on the floor and consist of languidly stretching arms, legs and torso. They do not seek strength ("you are strong enough or you wouldn't be racing," says Killy); they seek the easy suppleness of gymnasts.
Killy and Annie flop on the floor with both legs outstretched, their palms under their insteps, their foreheads on their knees in a pose that would wrench the spine of an ordinary athlete. As a windup, they rest on their elbows and the backs of their necks, feet straight in the air, for five quiet minutes. "Think of nothing," warns Annie, "else, how can you relax?" Bonnet says mini-yoga will work wonders for everybody, even nonskiers. The rest is easy: come down off your neck, eat an apple before every meal and forget all about diet. Eat all you want. Fall asleep instantly ("I go poof!" says Killy), awake limber and go win races. "This is really not yoga," says Killy, "but it is like yoga in that you do not think and you never worry." The French may have something, at that. Next to them other racers look overtrained, overmuscled and overtense. And the rest of the ski world cannot argue with success. After all, that egg position wasn't really an egg.