Benjamin Daviet (b), Perle Bouge (s), PR2 Mixed Double Sculls, France, 2024 European Rowing Championships, Szeged, Hungary © World Rowing / Benedict Tufnell

“I don’t think anyone expected us, because the boat didn’t qualify at the World Championships. Maybe people said he’s new, he doesn’t know where he is, where he’s going, and so on, and the fact that we won the heat, maybe people are now saying ‘oh, they might be a problem, those French’,” says Benjamin Daviet, with a grin.

Daviet is speaking the evening after his debut race for the French rowing team, where he and Perle Bouge won their PR2 mixed double sculls heat to progress straight to the final. They went on to claim fourth place in the final after leading early on.

But Daviet is no stranger to sporting success. From three Paralympic Winter Games he has collected five gold, four silver and a bronze medal in biathlon and cross-country skiing, along with multiple world championship and world cup medals.

He began skiing as a child, growing up in Grand-Bornand in the Haute Savoie region of France – he rows on Lake Annecy. Grand-Bornand has supplied a huge number of French skiing champions, and continuing with winter sport after a moped accident aged 17 was natural.

Daviet started rowing a couple of years ago to vary his training. When Bouge’s rowing partner Stéphane Tardieu stepped away after a disappointing 2023 World Rowing Championships, where France failed to qualify the PR2 Mix2x for the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games, the team called Daviet.

Daviet is upfront about the fact that the draw to join the project was a home Games. He says he would have rowed anyway to vary his skiing training, but adds: “Clearly if the Games weren’t in Paris, I’d never have got in a double.

“I didn’t do this to do two sports at the same time. I’m also a young father, my daughter is eight months old, so I need to manage family commitments too. I’m away a lot already with skiing training camps and competitions, and now I’m adding rowing. It’s complicated, and I wouldn’t have done it if the Games had been in Los Angeles like in 2028.”

Daviet and Bouge only rowed together three days a month through the winter. Daviet continued skiing, winning silver and bronze at the biathlon world championships just five weeks before the European Rowing Championships. Since then, he is full-throttle into the rowing project.

Although juggling two sports is difficult, Daviet says there are benefits.

“The base I’ve built in my main disciplines has helped me to perform better and progress faster in rowing. It’s also a sliding sport which replicates the feeling you have in cross-country skiing,” he explains, adding that the push-pull gestures of the two sports are similar, and the varying lengths of effort required are also mutually beneficial.

“The hardest thing for me is really the technique, to turn the blades, keep the boat flat. The things which Perle does naturally, like rowing square blades, that’s still a bit tricky for me. We’re really working on the small gains and making those better,” he says, discussing what he has found most difficult in his new sport.

“Something I still need to do better is prepare the blades earlier, in order to be able to really attack the water at the start,” Daviet adds.

Bouge’s experience has been invaluable.

“In the boat I’m very dynamic and she’s brought wisdom to the boat, not to go off like a madman and to start quickly, but also keep something back for the 2000m,” Daviet says.

Another role model in rowing for Daviet is Norway’s Birgit Skarstein, who like him is also a winter Paralympian in cross-country skiing. He says they got on well on the winter circuit and then he found out she did a “bit of rowing on the side”.

“She’s an athlete with very strong values. She’s someone I think is an example in the sporting world, whether winter or summer. She doesn’t give up, she’s very strong mentally, she’s strong physically. She never judges, she’s always smiling, always positive, always encouraging others even if she doesn’t know them,” he says.

“That’s what you look for in sport, it’s that type of person. You do sport for that too, you’re not there to go behind someone’s back or put down your opponents. If you win, it’s because you’re better; if you lose, it’s because they were better than you and you have to accept that, that’s part of sport. Sport is better and beautiful because of that.”

Values are clearly important to Daviet and he talks passionately about what sport has brought to him.

“I don’t think I’d be the man I am today without sport; I mean competitive, respectful of people in general, open-minded, willing. I’m very positive in everything I do and see. I tell myself there’s always something worse. For me, sport is the most beautiful school of life,” he says.

He hopes the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games will also open the eyes of the French public to what athletes with disabilities can achieve. And Daviet and Bouge are laser-focused on being there in the PR2 mixed double sculls.

“Clearly the goal for me and for Perle too is to take this boat to the Games. We’re very much focused on that, and I think that also gives us strength. We’re crossing fingers that it works out,” he concludes.