Seconds after countrymen Jean Frederic Chapuis and Arnaud Bovolenta grabbed gold and silver in the Olympic final, Midol was headed across the finish to join them when he washed out landing the final jump.
Gravity did the rest.
Instead of a picturesque moment with arms aloft in triumph after France’s first-ever medals sweep in the Winter Olympics, Midol slid to bronze on his behind. Skis splayed. Poles flopped. Midol laughed.
Skicross won. So did France.
“I can’t explain how it feels,” Midol said. “We had a dream to make the podium with friends. The Olympic Games, three French on the podium is incredible.”
France’s last podium sweep in any Olympics came on men’s vault during the 1924 Summer Games in Paris. Nine decades later in a sport barely out of its infancy, the bleu, blanc and rouge will drape across the medal stand once again.
“We party together,” Bovolenta said. “We share the glory of our victories together and we generally have lots of fun in training, all the time. They were wonderful minutes when we’re on the podium together.”
Minutes that arrived only after two hours of typical skicross bedlam at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park. On softening snow that rode like an indecisive escalator — fast in places, slow in others — the second run of skicross in the Olympics produced incidents and accidents that didn’t play favorites.
Gold medal contender Victor Oehling Norberg of Sweden was leading his quarterfinal heat when his skis crossed a few feet from the finish. In an instant he was joined by Jouni Pellinen of Norway and Russia’s Egor Korotkov.
Rather than advance to the semifinals, Oehling Norberg ended up third when his last-second lunge with his arms was edged out by Korotkov’s flop across the line.
“I just lost my balance,” Oehling Norberg said. “It’s my fault.”
That wasn’t always the case in an event where hard luck doesn’t necessarily lead to hard feelings.
Chris Del Bosco of Canada narrowly missed out on bronze in Vancouver in 2010 when he smashed into a gate in the finals. In Sochi, he was second fastest in qualifying, then went out in the first round of elimination races after failing to find any sort of rhythm over the series of rolling mounds, banked turns and a massive leap at the end that is the equivalent of jumping out of a six-story building at 50 mph.
John Teller of the U.S. spent most of a first-round elimination race battling with Midol for position. Three times they touched, with Teller losing his momentum after the final clash, his unlikely pursuit of an Olympic medal gone.
“That’s skicross,” the part-time auto mechanic said.
Maybe, but the 24-year-old Chapuis has discovered consistency in a sport where every trip down the mountain is equal parts courage and chance.
The former alpine skier won the world championship last year and had four top-10 World Cup finishes this season. He spent some time in Turkey last week trying to “reset” his body for the bruising Olympic course in the Caucasus Mountains.
While short on details about his preparation — “It is my secret, I’m not going to tell you,” he said with a laugh — Chapuis was dedicated to the vision his team had of making a statement in what is now France’s best-ever showing in the Winter Games.
“We had set some goals for ourselves,” Chapuis said. “I’m not the only one. Our entire team, we were training all summer. We all had really serious training so we wouldn’t stay behind.”
The Frenchmen rarely were while pushing their country’s medal total in Sochi to 14, well above the 11 France won in both Salt Lake City and Vancouver.
While Chapuis’ gold may not have been a surprise, it was a stunner to find his two good friends flanking him on the podium. In six years of World Cup racing, Bovolenta had never finished higher than sixth. Midol had only reached one final, finishing fourth, since joining the national team in 2011.
Bovolenta hardly seemed bothered by the smooth pass for the lead Chapuis made early in the final. Chapuis is the better skier and the team leader. Bovolenta called the finish “perfect,” perhaps because he spent most of it tucked in behind Chapuis trying to protect his silver medal.
Behind them, Midol was busy fending off Canadian Brady Leman, whose attempts to break up a sweep ended when he lost an edge and wiped out two-thirds of the way down the mountain.
The three good friends draped themselves in the French flag afterward, giddy as the vision of which they had long spoke had come to life.
“It’s a great victory,” Chapuis said. “It shows what kind of work we have done.”
And the work there still is to do.
“We’ll drink a little bit,” Midol said. “We’ll see. A big party it will be.”
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