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Meet Thibault Giroud — the NFL-playing bobsledder who has finally made France fit

Kate Rowan
·3-min read
Thibaut Giroud has had a varied sporting journey that has taken in the 1998 Nagano Winter Games and the New York Jets  - GETTY IMAGES
Thibaut Giroud has had a varied sporting journey that has taken in the 1998 Nagano Winter Games and the New York Jets - GETTY IMAGES

Thibault Giroud has perhaps been one of the most influential men in international rugby over the past 18 months, but he is also one of the least heralded.

France's head of athletic performance has been a key figure in the country's rugby revolution of the past year, making a team that can - as the cliche has it - be somewhat laissez-faire when it comes to conditioning, one of the fittest on the planet. 

“France have never been fitter," says former flanker Serge Betsen. "He has been really important in what [coach] Fabien Galthie has done to change France. Before there was too much politics, but Galthie was allowed to bring in people like Giroud who we worked with at Toulon and who is trusted by everyone. 

"That is why France are achieving what they are - the right people are in the right jobs. And Giroud with such amazing experience - he is bringing in a lot of new ideas, which inspires the players.”

Giroud's experience is obvious enough from just the quickest of glances at his LinkedIn page, although it is fair to say that he is possibly underselling himself. He mentions he was an Olympic athlete but not that he was a bronze medallist in bobsleigh at the 1998 Nagano Winter Games, nor that he was encouraged into that sport through a friendship with Prince Albert of Monaco.

In the results-driven world of athletic performance, it is also curious that there is also no mention of how the 46-year-old was spotted in his youth by a scout from Dartmouth University in New Hampshire and took up an American Football scholarship. Giroud was a running back and was even drafted by the New York Jets, although he never played in the NFL. He did, however, have a career in NFL Europe and later briefly played rugby union, including the 2003-04 season as a wing at Saracens, a role he juggled with work as their conditioner.

France's scrum-half Antoine Dupont runs with the ball during the Six Nations rugby union tournament match between France and England  - AFP
France's scrum-half Antoine Dupont runs with the ball during the Six Nations rugby union tournament match between France and England - AFP

Later conditioning roles would come in rugby league - Giroud has spoken of how he prefers the speed of that sport - but he solidified his reputation with stints at Glasgow Warriors and then Toulon where he would forge a formidable partnership with Galthie.

But despite this colourful back-story of the Grenoble-born son of Tongan parents, it is perhaps only now that Giroud is really making his mark on the global sporting world. It might be Shaun Edwards getting all the plaudits for his defensive work now but in the past French defensive efforts ran out of steam and it is Giroud who is ensuring the players are physically capable of this.

Giroud, who is also noted in the academic world for his expertise on maintaining athlete body temperature, has masterminded France’s increase in fitness which has allowed them to both “jouez, jouez” and adapt physically to their new defensive requirements.

A good example of Giroud’s early oeuvre with France was how, despite brutally humid conditions, they hung on to beat Argentina in their opening pool game at the 2019 Rugby World Cup. That tournament may ultimately have ended in the disappointment of a quarter-final exit, performances undermined by rumours of in-fighting, but nobody was blaming the condition of the players. 

Rather, players such as Gael Fickou looked reborn, with many observers attributing the success solely to Giroud. His influence is now embedded with this young generation.

'Le Crunch' at Twickenham may be missing France’s star names but Giroud will have been working in the wings to ensure that this young generation will not be daunted by the physical battle against the English.