The last alpine medals of the 2018 winter Olympics have been decided. The inaugural Olympic alpine team event took place on Saturday as one of the last events of the 2018 PyeongChang Games, treating fans to blue skies, hard snow, and fast action.
Gold went to Switzerland, Austria took the silver, and Norway eked out France for the bronze.
Even though the alpine events of the Games were marred by weather delay after weather delay, the alpine races ended as scheduled with Saturday’s team event.
16 nations started in the team event. All rounds were knockout rounds where four athletes of two men and two women would compete for each team, with an additional man and woman in reserve incase of an injury. The crucial component to this format of a parallel slalom course with panel gates and a length of about 20 seconds is – just like in the city and parallel events on the World Cup – the start. A good start can set you up for success or leave you scrambling to make up lost ground right off the bat.
If a nation wins three out of four head-to-head matchups in a round, they move on. In the event of a 2-2 tie, the fastest men’s and women’s time from each team is combined and the team with the lowest combined time moves on.
After the first few rounds whittled the field down to the four semifinal nations, the semifinals themselves both ended up being clear 3-1 decisions. Austria beat Norway and Switzerland beat France.
The final race for gold was a showdown between the two long-time rivals in the ski racing world, Austria and Switzerland. With team gold and bragging rights on the line, the stakes were incredibly high in the big final.
With the pressure on, it seemed like the Austrian men could not quite handle it in their final runs. Michael Matt missed a gate and was disqualified and Marco Schwarz did not finish his run. Without the support of their male teammates, Austria lost 3-1, giving the Swiss team-event gold.
“It’s just great to win with the team today,” said Wendy Holdener, who walks away from PyeongChang 2018 with a medal of each color. “I knew we could do it. I think everyone knows that, but in end, you just have to do it. Pressure was here.”
Holdener’s teammate and men’s slalom silver medalist Ramon Zenhaeusern also felt the pressure in the final.
“We knew yesterday that it’s possible to get the win here, but we had to stay focused because it’s not easy,” he shared after the race. “We saw it with the Swedish team. They were also favorites and they went out, so I’m really proud of our team that we made it. Dream team.”
The other members of the Swiss team were Denise Feierabend, Daniel Yule, and Luca Aerni. Yule described his view of winning gold and how much he enjoyed the event.
“It’s just amazing and I think to do it in a team event, for us skiers who usually are always doing an individual sport, to just do it all together like this for Team Switzerland, that was just amazing.”
The small final for the bronze medal between Norway and France ended up being a tight race. After the head-to-head matchups ended 2-2, Norway won due to their faster combined time.
The U.S. team, consisting of Megan McJames, Nolan Kasper, Patricia Mangan, David Chodounsky, Alice Meryweather, and Mark Engel, faced Great Britain in the first round. The dual was tight and ended with two wins for each nation. Unfortunately for the Americans, the Brits advanced with the fastest combined time.
“Our fastest girl was a hundredth slower than their fastest girl,” said Kasper. “Unfortunately, Dave (Ryding) was really fast and I was 18-hundredths back so we were 19 hundredths out. Obviously, we hoped to advance at least past the first round, but a couple bobbles by me made it tough to do that.”
In the quarterfinals, Austria defeated Sweden with four straight wins. Knocking out the Swedish team in this manner was the big surprise of the day and demonstrated the strength of Austria, especially given how strong the Swedes have been in the team and parallel events in recent years.
Even the athletes who did not win a medal on Saturday felt the team spirit and camaraderie that the team event brings out. If athlete impressions are any indication, the team event will be around for years to come.
“I think it’s a really fun event,” McJames said. “It’s new and we’re still working out the kinks but both racing someone head-to-head and being able to train and race with the boys is super fun, so I’m happy to be here. Next time we’ll do better.”
The team event concludes the alpine program for the PyeongChang 2018 Games. The World Cup season continues on March 3-4 with men’s slalom and giant slalom in Kranjska Gora, Slovenia, and women’s super-G and alpine combined in Crans Montana, Switzerland.