YANQING, China (Reuters) – Clement Noel ended France’s 16-year wait for an Olympic gold in Alpine skiing with victory in the men’s slalom on Wednesday and was hailed by his coach for producing “magic on the snow”.
The French had not celebrated a gold medal since Antoine Deneriaz’s victory in downhill at the Turin Games in 2006 and Noel’s win came in style with a blistering second leg.
The 24-year-old was sixth after the first run but his second effort was a massive 0.99 seconds quicker than that of Austria’s first-run leader Johannes Strolz and France team coach Fred Perrin was effusive in his praise.
“He was brilliant on both runs, because it was a complicated race. On the first run there was lots to lose — you had to ski clean and that’s what he did. In the second run he began really well and we saw Clement Noel, the best slalomer in the world,” he said.
“What I like about slalom, I’ve always loved (it) when they’re bombing it, when it’s fast, when you see magic on the snow. That’s what I saw on the second run and I really like watching skiing like that,” he added.
Perrin said he had sensed that a great run could be on the cards after watching Noel in practice.
“I was confident beforehand, because I saw him ski the first few days here. He was very mobile, very easy, at one with the snow,” he said.
“It’s what he enjoys and, when he’s like that, he’s excellent.”
Noel’s team mate Alexis Pinturault, who won silver and bronze medals in Pyeongchang, finished in 16th place and predicted plenty more success for Noel.
“He’s a great champion. He’s already done great things and he’ll continue to do that in the years to come,” he said.
Noel came into the Games after a poor run of form in the World Cup, with an eighth place his best finish from three races in January, but said he found his best at just the right time.
“I lost a little bit of confidence at the beginning of January and then I skied not so good in training also. I had some good runs but I always made mistakes or had trouble in the second runs,” he said.
“It really means a lot to be in my best shape on the most important day of the season.”
Norway’s Sebastian Foss-Solevaag, who took bronze, said there was no question that the best man won.
“I would say he (Noel) deserved that gold. He is the fastest slalom skier at the moment,” he said.
(Reporting by Simon Evans; Editing by Ken Ferris)