Dressed in white uniforms, the French Olympic team received a heroes' welcome from some 4,000 supporters as they arrived at the ceremony.
“The Olympic Games is a huge event, but being in the Olympic Village is like being in a bubble,” said biathlete Martin Fourcade, who brought home three gold medals. “Coming here and seeing everyone makes us realise the impact that we have in France, and it’s something very powerful.”
It was also a moment for athletes to share with fans the experiences they shared together in the Olympic Village.
“We had many human moments, golden moments, with the other athletes,” said Guillaume Cizeron, who took a silver medal in ice dance. “There were many moments when we felt for our teammates, when we stressed more for them than for our own competitions.”
Hanging over the celebrations were a few disappointments, including Cizeron and his partner Gabriella Papadakis having missed the gold by less than one point due to a wardrobe defect early in their competition.
“Unpredictable things always happen in sports and that’s part of it,” said Papadakis. “It’s a bit disappointing to work so long only to succumb to bad luck, but we still managed to overcome it and bring home a medal.”
Despite the team’s successes, which put France at ninth place in overall medal standings, their objective was to win 20 medals, and the athletes were also asked how they felt about that.
Fourcade, whose three medals made him the most decorated of all French competitors at the Winter Games, relativised his result.
“It could have been magnificent and I could have brought home five gold medals, or I could have come home without any medals at all. I went to seek a gold medal and I won three, so I’m not going to be too picky.”
Alpine ski racer Alexis Pinturault, who brought home one silver and one bronze medal, made similar comments on the team’s overall efforts.
“Having two medals is always an honour. It’s always difficult and sometimes it does not get the best results, especially for us, the alpine team,” he said.
“We were very close to doing even better but for me and for others, that’s just the way sport is.”