French sweep medals in skicross at Sochi Games
KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia The sport may be unpredictable. The results looked like anything but a free-for-all.
France. France. France.
Vive la skicross.
Jean Frederic Chapuis led the first French medals sweep in Winter Olympics history Thursday, taking gold in the wild sport of skicross while Arnaud Bovolenta won silver and Jonathan Midol walked away with bronze.
"Two good friends. I can't explain how it feels," Midol said. "We had a dream to make the podium with friends. The Olympic Games, three French on the podium is incredible."
The three quickly bolted ahead in front of the fourth finalist of Thursday's medal race, Canada's Brady Leman. Leman briefly passed Midol for the third position but wiped out two-thirds of the way down the mountain, meaning the French only had to stay upright to make history.
They did. Sort of.
The threesome skied to the line single file. Chapuis crossed first. Then Bovalenta. Then Midol, who couldn't regain his balance after the final, sky-high jump and tumbled down, skidding across the finish to win the bronze.
Later, they posed on the podium together: Chapuis in his Olympic-issue green bib, Bovalenta in blue, Midol in yellow. They all put hands on their own tricolor — the French flag — and held it aloft.
"We practice together all the time," Bovalenta said. "Jean is fast, he's a world champion. Sometimes it's Midol, sometimes it's (10th-place finisher Jonas) Devossau and sometime it's me."
The French have mastered this course. Earlier in the week, Pierre Vaultier won the men's snowboardcross contest to give his country its first gold medal in that sport's version of side-by-side racing.
The method to the madness?
"I'm not going to tell you my secret," Chapuis said.
This marked the sixth podium sweep of the Sochi Games — adding to four by the Netherlands speedskating teams and one by the U.S. men's ski slopestyle squad on the same hill as the skicross competition.
Slopestyle has high jumps, big tricks and its fair share of spills. For skicross, the course is reshaped to set up a bang-em-up game, in which four racers vie for position as they travel over a series of big jumps, smaller "rollers" and sharply banked turns.
Often, skis and poles — and arms and legs — get tangled.
The scene that best showcased the chaos came in the day's first quarterfinal, when Sweden's Victor Oehling Norberg was comfortably in the lead approaching the finish but lost an edge and wiped out. That caused Egor Korotkov of Russia to fall and Finland's Jouni Pellinen tumbled, too.
Switzerland's Armin Niederer somehow skied off to the side to stay upright. The photo finish for second involved three skiers, none of them upright. Korotkov won out among the cluster of flailing skis and poles. He ended up finishing fifth.
The closest any of the French came to falling came in the day's first heat, when Midol and American John Teller were racing side-by-side and trading elbows for position. Midol won that showdown, Teller ran off course and the French didn't face much more trouble during the rest of a near-cloudless day in which conditions on the course changed almost by the meter — wavering between slushy and hard depending on how the sun hit the mountain.
The French hadn't swept the medals at any Olympics since the 1924 Summer Games in Paris.
Ninety years later in Russia, this trio came through.
The 24-year-old Chapuis said it's the culmination of four years' of work by France's new generation of skicross racers.
Chapuis, who has dual citizenship in Switzerland, struggled to earn spots on the Alpine teams in both countries. Then, skicross was added to the Olympic program in 2010 and he took a turn to France and over to the rough-and-tumble side of the sport — a move not all-that-uncommon among the top skicross racers.
He came to the Olympics as the 2013 world champion.
"I had a good foundation, a good background in skiing," Chapuis said. "I managed to adapt to this discipline very quickly."
Bovolenta, 25, broke his collarbone, shoulder blade and two ribs in July 2013, an accident that happened on a bike, when his tire burst while he was riding in the French Alps.
"Silver medal in Sochi for me," he said. "I'm happy."
Midol, 26, skied for Westminster College in Salt Lake City. He came to the Olympics with only one top-10 finish this season but will leave with the bronze medal and his own place among the country's sports icons.
A celebration is on tap.
"We'll drink a little bit," Midol said. "We'll see. A big party it will be."