PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (Reuters) - Alpine skiing’s first ever Olympic team event threw up enough surprises and excitement on Saturday to suggest that the parallel slalom format will be back at future Games, even if some of the world’s best skiers decided to give it a miss.
Alpine powers Switzerland, Austria and Norway won gold, silver and bronze respectively in a quickfire 16-nation knockout competition consisting of a series of head-to-head races with two men and two women on each team - a contrast with the usual spectacle of skiers racing down the course one by one.
“It’s a completely new discipline. For the people, it’s exciting to watch. Most of the time we are (racing) for ourselves, that’s why it’s really special to compete as a team,” Denise Feierabend of Switzerland told reporters.
Judging by the response of the skiers themselves and the crowd at the Yongpyong Alpine Centre, there was enough drama to make up for the absence of slalom specialists like American Mikaela Shiffrin and Austria’s Marcel Hirscher, who decided to call it a day after their individual events in Pyeongchang.
“It’s a cool event, to race against another guy in one run,” said Marco Schwarz of Austria. “I think they missed something,” he said of the absentees.
For Clement Noel of France, who were edged out of bronze medal position by Norway, “it was a super event, it was a great ambiance and a great course and crowd.
“All the (Winter Olympic) disciplines have team events - biathlon, cross-country and so on - and I think this kind of team race is fun to have for the spectators, and fun for us to do.”
Winners and losers alike said they hoped the experiment would be repeated in Beijing in four years’ time, and there is even talk of a parallel individual event.
“It’s new, and we’re still working out the kinks, but both elements - of racing someone head-on-head and being able to train and race with the boys - are super-fun and so I’m happy to be here,” said Megan McJames of the United States, who were unexpectedly knocked out in the first round by Great Britain.
Britain’s Dave Ryding was quick to squash the suggestion he might have found it frustrating that the Americans had put out a less than full-strength team on the women’s side.
“It’s absolutely great for us. Shame on them for not doing it. I mean we stepped up, we put out our strength, we took it seriously. Even if they had Shiffrin we could still have done it,” he said.
Reporting by Mark Trevelyan,; Editing by Sudipto Ganguly