ROSA KHUTOR, Russia (Reuters) - World champion Jean Frederic Chapuis was coolness personified as he led Arnaud Bovolenta and Jonathan Midol to France’s first Winter Olympics podium sweep in the men’s ski cross final on Thursday.
Chapuis calmly negotiated the crashes and chaos of one of the most unpredictable events at the Sochi Games and the 1-2-3 was secured when the fourth finalist, Canada’s Brady Leman, fell on the penultimate jump after tangling with Midol’s skis.
“With the two other French guys it’s like a dream,” said Chapuis, who has dual nationality and was on the Swiss Alpine skiing team before switching sports and countries in 2010.
”Yesterday, I was joking with the guys saying that all three on the podium would be good and it happened. It’s perfect.
“We didn’t have a strategy. There are three places for the podium, there is one loser’s place. We are friends off the slopes, but on the slopes we are enemies.”
It was the second medal sweep for one nation in the freestyle skiing at the Extreme Park after the Americans took all three podium places in the slopestyle event.
It also ensured France their best tally at a Winter Games with a total of 14 medals, exceeding the 11 the nation won at Salt Lake City and Vancouver.
Chapuis had shown strong form all day. Fourth fastest in the seedings’ run, the 24-year-old led bronze medalist Midol through from their round-of-16 heat and the pair repeated the one-two in their two subsequent races to reach the final.
Bovolenta came through the bottom half of the draw with Leman and made a good start in the medal decider, edging ahead of Chapuis before being reeled in.
“At the beginning of the run I was first, then I saw Jean-Frederic’s ski past me,” Bovolenta said. “I was glad to follow his path until the end of the run.”
Chapuis never looked like being caught once he got in front and when Leman fell, the French trio just had to stay upright after the final jump.
Midol slid over the line on his back and then took time amid the celebrations to remember his brother Bastien, a world championship silver medalist who was ruled out of the Games by a serious back injury.
“I was thinking so much of him. He is doing well,” said Midol. “He is in front of the television watching. He is in bed and he cannot walk.”
Leman missed out on the Vancouver Games after breaking his leg but, true to the spirit of freeski racing, did not blame Midol for his fall.
“I feel like I let the team down. I am proud, but I‘m crushed I came fourth,” said the 27-year-old, who took out Swiss favorite Alex Fiva in the first round of heats.
“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.”
Semi-finalist Armin Niederer apart, it was a miserable day for the strong Swiss team with defending champion Michael Schmid failing to start after suffering yet another knee injury and Fiva crashing out.
As usual in the rough and tumble of the “roller derby on snow” there were plenty of crashes and Fiva was by no means the only leading skier to go out early.
The exit of the Swedish medal contender Victor Oehling Norberg was the most spectacular, crash-landing on the final jump while leading his quarter-final - and missing out on the semis by only a matter of centimeters.
Editing by Peter Rutherford and Robert Woodward