BEIJING (Reuters) – After placing two on the podium at a World Cup downhill in Kitzbuhel last month, France are hoping to spring a surprise in the Alpine skiing speed events at the Beijing Olympics on a track nobody will have raced on.
Veteran Johan Clarey took second place in Kitzbuhel ahead of team mate Blaise Giezendanner to boost the morale of the men’s squad before the Games.
“My ambition, my dream is to bring back a medal. That’s why I’m here. I’m not among the favourites because there’s a lot of guys who are faster than me but I’m coming into the Games with momentum and a lot of confidence,” Clarey told reporters on Wednesday.
“Also I’ve got no physical problems. But I’m still going to need a bit of luck to get something good, which means a medal because anything else means nothing,” added the 41-year-old, who has nine World Cup podium finishes under his belt and won silver in the super-G at the 2019 world championships.
Clarey, however, has never finished above 18th in either the super-G or downhill in the three previous Games and no French skier has won a medal in the speed events since Antoine Deneriaz claimed gold in the donwhill at the Turin Games in 2006.
No test event took place on the Yanqing slope because of the COVID-19 pandemic, meaning no skier has yet gone down the Olympic piste and they will only have three training sessions to get the feel of the slope and the abrasive artificial snow.
It levels the field of play, although Giezendanner, who was fourth in the super-G at the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, believes the best will still win.
“Downhill is a discipline in which experience matters,” he said.
“So I’m not sure this is going to turn everything upside down. Maybe there will be a few surprises in the first couple of trainings but by the third session, order will be restored.
“It’s up to us, underdogs, to spring a surprise.”
Matthieu Bailet believes that even if the French are not among the top favourites for Sunday’s downhill, anything can happen, especially on a course on which head coach David Chastan said wind could dramatically impact performance.
“It’s a one-day race in conditions we don’t know. The idea is to make the most of this opportunity,” Bailet said. (This story has been refiled to changes moment to momentum in paragraph 3)
(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Christian Radnedge)