Eva Samkova stays on her feet to capture snowboard cross gold
ROSA KHUTOR, Russia – Eva Samkova of the Czech Republic won the gold medal in women’s snowboard cross at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games on Sunday after leading in each round and avoiding any of the crashes that took out some of her biggest competitors.
Pre-race favorite Lindsey Jacobellis of the U.S., who can’t seem to get a break at the Olympics, crashed out in the semifinal round, when she had a comfortable lead but then lost balance off a jump and tumbled out of the course.
“It was kind of like landing on mashed potatoes,” said Jacobellis after the crash. “It’s a challenging moment for me right now. It’s unfortunate that I didn’t make it to the final just because of a small mistake. … It’s hard to accept and then go up and do another race. I trained very hard for this day and it’s hard to see that it didn’t work out.”
The U.S.’s Faye Gulini finished just off the podium in fourth. “This is a great course, but it is intimidating,” she said. “We don’t usually have courses that have jumps this big and it’s so much fun. But some girls don’t have this capability of hitting these huge jumps. … I am very light, so any mistake I make will just kill me. A bunch of people fell, but I am very good at staying on my feet, memorizing the features and making sure I am doing the right moves. Two girls fell in the final and I passed them.”
Three-time Olympian Dominique Maltais, of Canada, the 2013-14 world cup leader in snowboard cross, took the silver and French teenager Chloe Trespeuch won the bronze medal at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park.
“Yesterday, the course was way faster and I was riding really well,” said Maltais. “For my qualifiers I was kind of surprised because I was expecting a faster course than that. We’ve been training on the course with really soft conditions especially for the last two days when it was warmer. We’re used to riding in those conditions especially at the end of March when there’s spring conditions. It’s really warm today, but at least it’s not raining. The course was really good.”
Defending gold medalist Maelle Ricker, of Canada, who was competing despite having a broken wrist, crashed in the quarterfinal round.
In the anything-can-happen fast-paced snowboard cross event, crashes and falls are common and they often take out even the best riders. The snowboarders said the tricky course at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park — filled with sharp turns, several series of rollers as well as jumps — was extremely fast, making every little bobble even more noticeable.
“It is really nice to bring the gold medal to the Czech Republic but it doesn’t change anything in me,” said the winner, Samkova. “I feel awesome. At first, I felt euphoria and I couldn’t even believe I got first. I realized it much later.”
Another relay win for Sweden; U.S. finishes 11th
KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — Sweden won the men’s 4x10km relay on Sunday at the Laura Cross-Country Ski and Biathlon Center, defending the title it won at Vancouver in 2010. Skiing the anchor leg for Sweden, Marcus Hellner finished off the win in a total time of one hour, 28 minutes and 42 seconds.
The real race was for the silver medal, a race won by host nation Russia, to the delight of the crowd at Laura, with France a surprise bronze medal winner. Sweden became the first team in 42 years to win both the men’s and women’s relay events at the same Olympics; the women’s team upset the Norwegians for the relay win on Saturday.
The U.S. team finished 11th, with a total time of 1:33:15.1, 4:33.1 behind the Swedes. Skiing for the U.S. were Andy Newell, Erik Bjornsen, Noah Hoffman and Simi Hamilton.
Newell kicked off the relay with the first classic leg, but struggled on the final climb. He was able to complete his leg and hand off to Bjornsen, but the U.S. was well back, in 15th at the first exchange. Newell was assisted off the course by medical staff, and soon recovered.
“I was just warming up and it seemed like he (Newell) was in the mix so I was expecting to be right with them,” Bjornsen said. “I got out there and he was a little ways back, but it’s a tough competition. I’m sure the pace just picked up and he maybe wasn’t able to go with it.”
Bjornsen said he felt great. “I just tried to ski smooth and strong. The last classic race I maybe went out a little too hard, so I was feeling great and I was able to just pop some of those hills, but also trying to be realistic and stay smooth so I could ski a smart race. I think I did. I was able to pick off a couple spots (he had the team in 13th after his leg), so I was happy with it.”
Noah Hoffman, racing third, had the fastest split for the U.S., at 21:37.4. “What we discussed was top eight,” he said after the race. “That was our goal at World Championships last year and we ended up 10th. Today, again, we’re not too far from it. Time-wise, we’re quite a ways from it, but Andy just had a tough go. We’re not that far away from being in there.”
“It’s a deceivingly hard course for sure,” said Simi Hamilton, who finished things off for the U.S., leaving the team in 11th. “There’s nothing crazy on it, but you’re kind of working the transitions the whole time and there’s not a lot of recovery. … Today didn’t feel awesome, but I fought hard.”
For the second straight day, Norway was the favorite, and for the second straight day it didn’t come through. The men finished fourth, 1:09.7 behind the winners. For much of the race Norway had been trailing in sixth place.
“There’s no secret, just really hard work,” said Johan Olsson, who skied the third leg for Sweden and was the team’s top performer. “We made the race our own, we set the pace and we knew we were the strongest team.”
Norway’s women had blamed their skis for their poor showing in Saturday’s relay. Asked if the waxing had played a part in the men’s victory, Richardsson said, “Those guys I raced with today have the same as me in skis. Not bad, not worse either. We have good skis in Sweden. I think Norway have as well. We Swedish guys are in good shape.”
Sweden and Finland were close at the end of the second leg, more than 18 seconds ahead of the opposition, when Olsson took over. He soon pulled out to a big lead on Lari Lehtonen, who was also passed by Russia’s Alexander Legkov. The Russian’s relay split, in front of a cheering home crowd, was 20:33.4, one of the fastest of the day, and 27 seconds faster than even Olsson’s strong peformance.
For history buffs, France’s bronze was its 100th medal in the Winter Olympics.
Russia’s silver medal finish was its best in the men’s cross-country relay; the Soviet Union won gold in 1980.
Coming up tomorrow:
(all events Sochi time; subtract nine hours for EST)
Freestyle. Men’s aerials at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, with qualifying at 5:45 p.m., Final 1 at 9:30 p.m. and Final 2 at 10:12 p.m.
Ski jumping. The men’s team event takes place at the RusSki Gorki Ski Jumping Center, with the first round at 9:15 p.m. and the final round at 10:15 p.m.
Snowboard. Men’s snowboard cross kicks off at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park with seeding at 11 a.m., 1/8 finals at 1:30 p.m., quarters at 2:01 p.m., and semis at 2:13 p.m., and finals at 2:17 p.m.