French skier Clement Noel wins Olympic men’s slalom with fast second run
The Associated Press
BEIJING — French skier Clement Noel put down a blistering second run to win the slalom at the Beijing Olympics by a large margin on Wednesday.
Noel moved up from sixth following the first leg to beat first-run leader Johannes Strolz of Austria by 0.61 seconds after posting the fastest second run.
World champion Sebastian Foss-Solevaag of Norway held his position and picked up the bronze, finishing 0.70 behind.
Strolz also won the gold medal in the combined last week.
Noel finished fourth in the slalom at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games. All nine of his World Cup wins have come in slalom, including the opening race this season on home snow in Val d’Isere.
After the win in Val d’Isere, however, Noel threw away an almost certain victory when he missed the last gate of a slalom in Madonna Di Campiglio, Italy, then again failed to finish the next slalom in Adelboden, too.
“I knew that I was in shape,” Noel said. “My races in January were not good but training here was really good — I was fast.”
Quickly maneuvering his 6-foot-3 frame around the blue and red gates, Noel accelerated on the steep finishing pitch where most of the other skiers were more cautious.
The middle section of the Ice River course presented a challenge with a series of bumps, but Noel — who was wearing a shiny gold-colored helmet — used his long legs as shock absorbers to remain smooth.
When he crossed the line, the 24-year-old Noel yelled and let out a series of fist pumps even though there were still five racers to go.
Strolz has been an unexpected success at the Beijing Games. Before he won the race in Adelboden last month when Noel went out, the Austrian’s best finish in more than eight years of World Cup racing was 10th place. He was dropped from the Austrian team at the end of last season but worked his way back into the squad recently and made the Olympic team.
“It’s totally crazy,” Strolz said.
Henrik Kristoffersen was the only skier who came close to Noel’s time at the final checkpoint, trailing by just 0.03, but the Norwegian veteran then lost his groove and finished fourth, 0.79 behind.
“I knew that the last pitch was not good,” Kristoffersen said. “I skied too safe and technically bad. For sure, Noel deserved the win. He was by far the fastest in the second run.”
For the first run, the temperature at the top of the hill was minus 1 degree Fahrenheit. The freezing conditions made for an icy and slippery slope that caused 34 of the 87 competitors not to finish the opening leg.
It was the final individual event for men in Alpine skiing. Two-time Olympic champion Mikaela Shiffrin is aiming for her first medal of the Beijing Games in the women’s combined on Thursday. The team event on Saturday concludes the program.