YANQING, China (Reuters) -Clement Noel scorched the ‘Ice River’ course in a stunning second run to win the men’s slalom event at the Winter Olympics on Wednesday – France’s first Alpine skiing gold in Beijing.
The 24-year-old, who finished fourth in slalom and the mixed team event four years ago in Pyeongchang, was sixth fastest in the first run, but stormed down in a blistering 49.79 seconds in his second to take the title.
“That was one of the most important races in my career,” Noel said. “It’s not often that you are able to win a medal in the Olympic Games. It’s one shot – one minute and 40 seconds every four years.
“I knew that I was in shape. My races in January were not good but training here was really good, I was fast. This is the best I can do. I have no words to describe it.
“Olympic champion … wooh!”
Austrian Johannes Strolz won silver to go with his gold in the combined, finishing 0.61 seconds behind Noel, while reigning world champion Sebastian Foss-Solevaag of Norway took bronze.
Noel has struggled for consistency this season and is sixth in the World Cup slalom standings.
He is the first French Olympic slalom winner since Jean-Pierre Vidal won gold at the Games in Salt Lake City in 2002 and the third overall, after Jean-Claude Killy’s win in the discipline at the Grenoble Games in 1968.
Strolz, who was fastest in the first run but a disappointing 13th in his second, matched his father Hubert’s medal haul at the Calgary Games in 1988.
The senior Strolz won Olympic gold in the combined and a silver medal in the giant slalom 34 years before his son repeated the feat by winning a gold and silver medal in China.
“The silver medal, it’s totally crazy,” Strolz said. “I am so happy with it … To share the podium with Clement and Sebastian is amazing.”
Foss-Solevaag, who is second in the World Cup slalom rankings this season behind compatriot Lucas Braathen, who skied out of his opening run, said his podium finish was a massive relief.
The 30-year-old Foss-Solevaag was within touching distance of a medal at the Pyeongchang Games after finishing fifth in his first run, but ended well back in the pack in his final run to come 10th.
“It really hasn’t sunk in yet,” Foss-Solevaag said. “It’s s a huge relief and a huge goal but if you have a goal that doesn’t mean you will reach it.
“I had a good chance in Pyeongchang last Olympics and I didn’t manage to do it. So to do it today was big. I have been thinking a lot since the slalom in Pyeongchang.”
(Reporting by Simon Jennings; Additional reporting by Shadia Nasralla and Simon Evans; Editing by Peter Rutherford, Himani Sarkar and Jacqueline Wong)