ROSA KHUTOR, Russia (Reuters) - Czech Eva Samkova’s searing pace helped her avoid the rough and tumble of the pack and dominate the snowboarding cross final on Sunday to win the gold medal at the Sochi Olympics.
The 20-year-old, sporting a fake moustache drawn on her top lip for good luck, had the top time in the morning seedings runs and simply dominated her quarter and semi-finals over the jumps and rollers of the Extreme Park course.
There was to be no change in the final and she had established a lead of some 10 meters by the time she was a third of the way down the hill.
Surviving a slight wobble at one turn around halfway, she held her nerve over the huge final hill to cross the line well clear of the field.
Tears of joy flowed as Samkova waited to be led to the podium as her country’s first Olympic champion in a snowboard event and first gold medalist of the Sochi Games.
“I knew that if she didn’t make any mistakes, she’d get it,” said her coach Jakub Flejsar.
“She’s the best in sucking down the jumps and pushing the rollers. She’s got fast legs and good timing. It was actually pretty boring but we liked that.”
Dominique Maltais of Canada claimed silver to add to the bronze she won in Turin eight years ago having earlier made contact with Belle Brockhoff to knock the Australian out of the semi-final.
French teenager Chloe Trespeuch won the bronze after overhauling Bulgarian Alexandra Jekova over the last couple of hundred meters of the race.
Defending champion Maelle Ricker of Canada, who was riding with a broken wrist, was knocked out when she fell in the second quarter-final and the same fate befell Turin silver medalist Lindsey Jacobellis in the semi-finals.
Jacobellis, who famously blew a 40-metre lead in the Turin final eight years when she tried to do a trick on the last hill, was leading her race but misjudged a landing in the second semi.
The outspoken Brockhoff was annoyed that her clash with Maltais had cost her a place in the final.
“If that Canadian hadn’t kicked me out I would have won,” she said with a smile.
”I‘m going to write her a very strongly worded letter.
“She just took a really tight line, she’s very aggressive on course. She picked up her board and hit my board and I couldn’t stop myself running off the edge.”
Such incidents are nothing new in an event that has been described as a “roller derby on snow”, but the most damaging crashes on Sunday came in the seedings round where the boarders ride alone.
Two of the first six riders fell heavily and were taken away on stretchers and their injuries were understandably the source of much concern after Russian freestyle skier Maria Komissarova broke her back on the same course on Saturday.
Although neither was able to ride in the knockout rounds, they were not seriously injured. Norwegian Helene Olafsen suffered a knee injury and American Jacqueline Hernandez a concussion.
Editing by Peter Rutherford