The wildest event of the Olympics — think snowboardcross but with more moving parts that can get tangled — lived up to that distinction. When all was done, France had the sweep.
Sport: Freestyle skiing
Event: Men’s skicross
Medalists: Jean Frederic Chapuis (France), Arnaud Bovolenta (France), Jonathan Midol (France)
SportsMyriad projections: Alex Fiva (Switzerland), Dave Duncan (Canada), Andreas Matt (Austria)
How U.S. fared: John Teller was 20th in the seeding run (like qualifying, except that everyone qualifies) and got drawn into a tough heat in the first elimination round. He was fourth out of the start but picked his way into third, keeping pace with the two French riders. He came up to battle with Jonathan Midol, and Midol questionably bumped him aside on one turn. On the next, Teller tried to take the inside line, tangled with Midol again and skidded wide. That was it.
What happened: Favorite Alex Fiva had an eventful day. He didn’t finish his seeding run, leaving him seeded 30th. He raced out into the lead of his first heat but was slow off a jump. Canadian Brady Leman was behind him and couldn’t slow down. Leman basically ran over Fiva and kept going. Leman won the heat; Fiva was out.
Canada’s David Duncan was the next to crash out, getting the worst of a four-way collision. All four finished, but Duncan was the slowest.
The big Canadian story coming in was Chris Del Bosco, who overcame troubles with alcohol and switched from the USA to Canada on his way to becoming a world champion in 2011. He was in bronze medal position in 2010 but fell trying to move up. He was second in the seeding race and in good position in his heat, but he took a couple of jumps badly and lost momentum. He threw out his arms in frustration as he finished third and didn’t advance.
The first quarterfinal was as crazy as this crazy sport gets. Flying off the final jump, three of the four skiers fell and slid across the line behind Switzerland’s Armin Niederer, who steered himself around the tangled bodies to finish upright and first. A photo finish had to separate the three who had fallen. Russia’s Egor Korotkov got his left arm across the line first, eliminating Swedish favorite and top seed Victor Oehling Norberg, who had been leading before going astray off the jump.
Austria’s Andreas Matt, the 2010 silver medalist, was eliminated in less spectacular fashion, simply lacking the speed in the second quarterfinal.
Into the semifinals, a couple of favorites looked strong. World champion Jean Frederic Chapuis (France) won his first two runs. So did Canada’s Brady Leman and Slovenia’s Filip Flisar, the 2012 World Cup winner and proud wearer of the best mustache in the Olympics.
Chapuis and Midol, whose tangling with John Teller had sent the American out of the first round, finished 1-2 for France in the first semifinal. Russia’s Egor Korotkov nearly crashed once again and couldn’t advance this time.
A third Frenchman, Arnaud Bovolenta, was in the second semifinal. Flisar looked like the favorite, but he hit the snow early, giving a yell of pain and/or frustration. Brady Leman sailed through to first, and Bovolenta made it three in the final for France.
Leman, the only non-Frenchman in the final, is a classic story of perseverance. He has had multiple leg breaks, including one the day before he was supposed to race in the 2010 Olympics.
Korotkov saved his smoothest run for the small final, shaking off a couple of bumps to go clear into first. Flisar stayed at the back and stayed out of trouble before moving up to second.
Off to the big final, where Leman may have felt outnumbered by the large French contingent. He picked his way from fourth to third but couldn’t hang on. Desperately trying to pass late, he skidded and fell.
Up front, it was Chappuis staying smooth, with Bovolenta behind him. Midol had a spectacular crash off the final jump but slid across the line, the medal surely numbing his pain.
Quote: “How have we still got four skiers on their feet?” – international feed commentator after one of many wild moments