France sweeps Sochi ski cross as North America stumbles
ROSA KHUTOR, Russia — It was a tough day for the North Americans in the Olympic ski cross competition at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park Thursday. In fact, the French, who swept the podium, are the only ones celebrating tonight.
Jean Frederic Chapuis took the gold medal, followed by Arnaud Bovolenta in silver-medal position and Jonathan Midol, who crashed across the finish line to take bronze.
Canada’s Brady Leman was the sole bright spot for North Americans. The Alberta-native managed to advance to the big final (final four), where he was in third position for half of the run but was cleanly passed by Midol. In what seemed like a last-ditch effort to regain third position, Leman caught his tip on the tail of Midol’s ski and slid out. He finished just off the podium in fourth.
“It was tough to get around,” said Leman. “I made it past but then I got stuck on the other side. I set up a move that I’d practiced. I knew that if I didn’t get my skis tangled up then I’d have been on the podium. It sucks to go without. … I feel like I let the team down. I am proud, but I’m crushed I came fourth. I’ve come fourth a bunch of times this year.”
Other than Leman, no other North American made it out of the first heat, including John Teller, the lone American representative in this competition. (USSA opted instead to stack other freestyle skiing events, such as halfpipe and slopestyle.)
In his heat, Teller was third out of the start. Rubbing elbows with German racer Daniel Bohnacker, the American was knocked off line, pinched around a gate and spun out, which ultimately resulted in a DNF. At the time, the contact was interpreted by some as questionable interference, but Teller later dismissed that suggestion.
“There was contact. It was all clean,” said Teller. “No one was doing anything dirty, but it’s a tight sport. … I just didn’t get a great start. I really wanted to go out in first. I just tried to forget about that and work my way up to second spot. I was pretty much stuck in third spot all the way down.”
American-Canadian Chris Del Bosco — native of Vail, Colo. with dual citizenship to the north from his mother — was simply out-skied in the first round of competition. He failed to get out in front early and got tangled up with another skier at one point.
“That was just bad,” said Del Bosco of his performance. “I got out the gate pretty good. Then I knew if I could stay tight I could get ahead, but I missed every transition. … The snow is just so weird. It goes fast, slow, fast, slow.”
Del Bosco, a world champion and two-time X Games gold medalist, said he’s not quite ready to hang it up. “I will finish off the year and if I am healthy and competitive then I will carry on. It is a small window you have (to compete). I love doing what I do,” Del Bosco said after the contest.
Canada’s David Duncan was also knocked out in the first round. “The goal was to come out with a Canada sweep, but two of us went out in the first round, so it is very disappointing.”
For France, it’s the country’s first medal sweep in Olympic Winter Games history. The last time it had a medal sweep was in the Summer Games 90 years ago, when France took gold and two silvers in the gymnastics artistic sidehorse vault for men in 1924.
This was a record sixth medal sweep at the 2014 Winter Games after the Netherlands swept the podium four times in speed skating and the United States swept the men’s ski slopestyle.
Norway captures team event in combined; U.S. team rallies for sixth-place finish
KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – Norway’s Joergen Graabak outskated Germany’s Fabian Riessle to the line after a grueling 4x5km relay race to take the men’s nordic combined team gold medal on Thursday, by 0.3 seconds. Just behind was Austrian veteran Mario Stecher, whose jumping and skiing helped secure the bronze for Austria.
The last day of Olympic competition at the RusSki Gorki Ski Jumping Center saw temperatures in the mid-40s, sun filtered through high clouds and light winds for the jumping. The sun was bearing down in earnest and the temperature was pushing 60 by the time the cross-country relay got under way.
It was the second time in less than 48 hours that Graabak had won a sprint finish; he did the same thing in the men’s large hill competition on Tuesday. “I can’t describe it,” said Graabak. “I think this is even bigger (than the individual gold).”
Germany won the ski jumping phase of the competition to lead Austria by seven seconds heading into the cross-country relay. Starting 25 seconds behind Germany’s Eric Frenzel in the first cross-country leg, Norway’s Magnus Moan surged on the steep uphill climbs to quickly catch Frenzel and Lukas Klapfer of Austria, after just 1.5km. By the end of the first 2.5km lap, he had skied to the front of the pack.
The three frontrunners then skied together for the rest of the race through all three exchanges, deciding things with the sprint to the line.
For the U.S. team, it was a day of transition.
The defending Olympic silver medalists in this event from 2010 and on the podium a year ago at the World Championships, the team didn’t jump well enough on the RusSki Gorki large hill to put themselves in contention. After four jumps, they sat in eighth place, out of nine teams, 1 minute and 52 seconds back. In a competition that saw six jumps of 130 meters or more, Bill Demong had the longest jump for the U.S., at 121.5 meters. Todd Lodwick went 116.5 meters, Bryan Fletcher 115, and Taylor Fletcher 112.5.
In the relay, the U.S. skiers picked off two teams ahead of them, Russia and the Czech Republic, to finish in a respectable sixth place.
Then it was time to talk about the changing of the guard. It was the last Olympics, and the last ski jump, for six-time Olympian Lodwick and very probably the last Olympic Games for Bill Demong. Both were part of the silver medal team in 2010. Lodwick suffered a bad shoulder injury in a training crash in January, but he was determined to make it back for the Games, and he did. But the injury clearly hampered his skiing.
He was quite emotional in the finish area, talking about the work he did to get back in shape for these Olympics, his teammates, his long career in the sport, and carrying the American flag for Team USA in the opening ceremonies. “I took these Olympic Games in probably more than any other Olympic Games,” Lodwick said. “I’m very fortunate to be here. And to be able to carry the flag at opening ceremonies, it’s humbling, to represent not only myself and the athletes but everyone back home and what that flag represents.”
“When they handed me the flag underneath the tunnel,” he recalled, “I waved it as high as I could, and showed everybody, and you could hear the echoes through the entire place.”
Demong wouldn’t categorically rule out another Olympics, but said “I would seriously doubt that I’ll be back here in this capacity, on skis.” He said he was sure he’d stay involved in the sport, would race more this year, and perhaps next year, as well. He said he felt that it would be important to be around at least awhile longer to help push along the next generation of combined athletes.
He had nothing but praise for longtime teammate Lodwick, talking about all he’d done for the sport, and saying he’d learned a lot from him, especially regarding the mental side of things. “It’s about finding the right head space,” Demong said. “You know, Todd can have a bad day, and he can write it off and come back swinging. That’s a good skill to have.”
Coming up tomorrow:
(All times for Sochi; subtract nine hours for EST)
Alpine. The women’s slalom takes place on Friday under the lights at the Rosa Khutor Alpine Center. The U.S. Ski Team’s Mikaela Shiffrin is one of the favorites, and will be joined in the race by teammates Resi Stiegler, Megan McJames and Julia Ford. The first run is at 4:45 and the second run at 8:15 p.m.
Freestyle. The women’s ski cross gets under way at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park with seeding at 11:45 a.m., 1/8 finals at 1:30 p.m., quarters at 2:05 p.m., semis at 2:25 p.m., and finals at 2:39 p.m.