Pierre Vaultier keeps hold to his title
Defending champion Pierre Vaultier (FRA) has won his second consecutive snowboard cross Gold edging off Jarryd Hughes (AUS) and Regino Hernandez (ESP) to second and third, respectively, in today's PyeongChang Olympic Winter Games finals.
The 30-year-old from Saint Chaffrey was able to keep the momentum from his incredible World Cup streak with six podium finishes in a row of which two had been wins.
Having therefore descended on South Korea with a lot of confidence, the current World Cup leader started off the day shocking the 40-men field by clocking in the best time in the seeding runs.
Backed by the knowledge of getting along well with the 1,277 metres long course built and shaped on point by White Industries Ltd the reigning World Champion rode strong in his eight and quarter finals before a crash in the semis almost dashed all hopes to earn another Gold.
After Australia's Cameron Bolton had fallen in the top part of the course, the French team leader got tangled up with Jarryd Hughes, Russia's Nikolay Olyunin and Austria's biggest hope for a medal Alessandro Haemmerle but was fortunate enough to get up back on his feet first.
In fact, he had to walk up a take off to finally strap in again and ride down the course coming in as lucky third of semi final number one.
“That was some rough time but finished the run in third was so sick. We’re not used to these kind of moves. It saved me. It got me to the final, and the final, it was done.”
He wouldn't have been the first of the odds-on favourites being thrown out by the course or after contacts with some fellow competitors though as high profile riders like Omar Visintin (ITA) and Lucas Eguibar (ESP) had been eliminated in their eighth final already.
But in the subsequent waiting game for the big final which actually lasted even longer due to another pile up of athletes in the second semi which also saw four riders going down one after the other, Vaultier quickly shook off this podium threatening episode.
When it was time to drop again, Vaultier was back in his tunnel, fully focused on the last heat.
The gates dropped and Vaultier got the hole shot trying to break away from the his pursuers but Jarryd Hughes, who had struggled with the course during this morning's time trials, gave Vaultier some headaches attacking the Frenchman here and there but couldn't really pass the most dominant snowboard cross rider of the last five years.
As both riders in front had to constantly fight for the line, the final six however stood together as quite a pack storming down the track at high speed.
But when two-time World Champion Alex Pullin (AUS) and US riders Mick Dierdorff and Nick Baumgartner all over shot the monster kicker right before the final third of the course, the top-3 of the PyeongChang 2018 men's sbx race were decided, with the race for the medals still open though.
In the end, it was Vaultier being able to hold off his rivals and to take home the Gold in an Olympic final to be remembered as he become the second SBX rider to keep hold on to his title since Seth Wescott did so in 2006 and 2010.
“My first title was incredible. I came back from injury two months before the Games and I won that Gold medal in Sochi. It meant a lot. I can’t even say why, but this one would mean even more,” explained the old and new Olympic Champion.
Full results are available here.
Interesting side fact: Regino Hernandez won bronze, picking up Spain's third medal at an Olympic Winter Games. Francisco Fernandez Ochoa won gold in alpine skiing in the men's slalom at Sapporo 1972, while his sister, Blanca Fernandez Ochoa, won bronze in the ladies' slalom in alpine skiing at Albertville 1992.
The women's event will take place on 16 February with the qualification runs slated for 10:00 (2:00 CET) with the finals following at 12:15 (4:15 CET).