By Nick Mulvenney
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (Reuters) – Pyeongchang individual medalists Wendy Holdener and Ramon Zenhaeusern led the way as Switzerland beat Austria 3-1 in a final showdown of traditional Alpine powerhouses to win the inaugural team gold at the Winter Olympics on Saturday.
Austria, without their double gold medalist Marcel Hirscher, took silver with the bronze going to Norway when they edged France on time differential after a 2-2 draw in the “small” final at the Yongpyong Alpine Centre.
Norway’s 38th medal in all sports at the Pyeongchang Games saw the Scandinavian nation surpass the tally of the United States at the 2010 Vancouver Games to become the most successful nation in terms of total medals at a single Winter Olympics.
The final event in the Alpine schedule brought mixed sex competition and parallel slalom to the Games for the first time and the knockout format ensured plenty of thrills, even if some of the sport’s bigger names had declined to take part.
Men’s giant slalom and combined champion Hirscher was among them, deciding to focus instead on his bid for a record seventh successive World Cup overall title, but Austria still swept through their three ties to reach the final.
They more than met their match in the Swiss, however, with men’s slalom silver medalist Zenhaeusern leading the fightback after they had gone 1-0 down in the title match when Denise Feierabend lost to Katharina Liensberger.
The “two-meter man” would have beaten Michael Matt even if the Austrian, bronze medalist behind Zenhaeusern in the slalom, had not missed a gate to be disqualified.
Holdener, who won silver in the slalom and bronze in the combined, then took up the Swiss standard to comfortably better Katharina Gallhuber, a bronze medalist in the slalom, by a tenth of a second to put the Swiss 2-1 up.
The gold medal came down to the men’s clash between Daniel Yule and Marco Schwartz and it was secured when the Austrian made an error halfway down the slope and skied out.
“We had a cool team, the spirit was really there. We knew we had a good chance of a medal and we went for it,” Holdener told reporters.
“For me it was really nice after a silver and bronze here, now I have one of every color. A really special three weeks for me.”
The first new event since super-G joined the Alpine program at Calgary three decades ago, each tie had two heats for men and two for women racers with the times of the fastest of each sex for each nation combined to decide draws.
“I think it’s a really fun event. It’s new and we’re still working out the kinks,” American Megan McJames said. “But both racing someone head-on-head and being able to train and race with the boys is super fun.”
The United States, without Mikaela Shiffron, Lindsey Vonn and Ted Ligety, were, however, knocked out in the first round on overall time by Britain after a 2-2 draw in their tie.
Sweden were among the favorites with both Pyeongchang slalom champions, Andre Myhrer and Frida Hansdotter, in their team but they were thrashed 4-0 by a clinical Austrian outfit in the quarter-finals.
“We had a tough draw with Sweden in the second so I thought we did very well,” Matt said.
“The course is short so you have to be more precise than the slalom and GS. It’s a cool event that should be continued.”
Norway also ended the Olympics of the British skiers on time differential in the last eight despite Dave Ryding winning the final heat for a 2-2 draw.
The Norwegians were unable to make it past the Austrians in the semi-finals, however, and it took a brilliant final run by Leif Kristian Nestvold-Haugen to beat Clement Noel by three 10ths of a second to secure the bronze and claim the record.
“It’s very humbling,” Nestvold-Haugen said.
“Even underneath the skisuit I get goosebumps talking about it, that the Alpine team of Norway could get that 38th medal.”
(Additional reporting by Mark Trevelyan; Editing by John O’Brien and Sudipto Ganguly)