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Olympic Games 2022: Alexis Pinturault fails in his quest for Olympic gold

In China, Alexis Pinturault dreams of only one thing: Olympic gold, the metal he has been chasing since the start of his career. Thursday, February 10 in Yanqing, the alpine combined of the Beijing Games probably represented his best chance of winning it, but the Frenchman failed, betrayed by a lack of confidence that has been eating away at him since the start of winter.

Held to the feat after a mediocre descent in the morning, “Pintu” took all the risks during the slalom a few hours later but straddled halfway through. End of the dream for the Savoyard. Austrian Johannes Strolz became Olympic champion ahead of Norwegian Aleksander Aamodt Kilde and Canadian James Crawford, two speed specialists.

In the finish area, the leader of the France team collapsed in tears. “The balance sheet is bad, he acknowledges. I no longer had a choice, I tried everything for everything, the only solution was to attack as much as possible. »

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A misfortune never arriving alone, after having straddled, the Frenchman hurt his right shoulder by falling on his elbow. Medical examinations must clarify the nature of his injury – the doctor of the France team fears a subluxation of the shoulder – but Pinturault remained optimistic about his chances of starting the giant slalom on February 13.

No wins this season

It was probably in the downhill, the first of the two legs of the combined with the slalom, that the Courchevel skier lost all hope of winning gold. Relegated to almost two seconds from the Norwegian Aleksander Aamodt Kilde, but above all to almost a second from the Austrian Marco Schwarz, who excels in slalom, the Frenchman (11and time) said to himself ” disappointed “but still wanted to believe it: “You never know what can happen in slalom. The gap is high, but anything is possible. »

In slalom, precisely, what happened many times this season in the World Cup happened: Alexis Pinturault did not see the finish. Four times in exactly six starts, whereas he only left the track once last winter. His second place at Madonna di Campiglio, in Italy, at the end of December 2021, does not change the observation: between the tight stakes, the Frenchman can no longer do it.

In the exercise of the combined, Pinturault was however not clumsy. He even made it one of his specialties. Ultra-versatile skier – an increasingly rare species in an era of hyper-specialization between speed disciplines (downhill and super-G) and technical disciplines (slalom and giant slalom) – the Savoyard has built 10 of his 34 successes there. in the World Cup. Reigning Olympic vice-champion, his best result at the Olympics, he is also the combined world champion in Are (Sweden) in 2019, and vice-champion, two years later, in Cortina (Italy).

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Equally at ease on long skis as skilful on short skis, the Frenchman is one of the few to have already won races in four different formats: super-G, giant slalom, slalom and combined; and even the only one in six formats if we add the City Event a short night event – ​​and the team event.

But this year, nothing, not the slightest victory to the credit of the best skier of the 2020-2021 season, winner of the big crystal globe, the first for a Frenchman since Luc Alphand, in 1997. Never, in more than ten years in his career, he has never had a successful empty season.

Two more possibilities

“Alexis had a real mobilization problem. After ten years chasing the big globe, he ended up winning it, and somewhere, I think that weighed heavily in the balance,” analyzed before the Games Fabien Saguez, the national technical director at the French Ski Federation. Hard to fault him. Many, such as Jean-Pierre Vidal, were betting on a good combined result to launch the French champion’s Olympic fortnight. “Then, everything can be unblocked, and give him the confidence for the other events”hoped the former Olympic slalom champion (at Salt Lake City 2002), now a consultant for Eurosport.

Eleventh in the super-G on Tuesday, eliminated from the combined on Thursday, Alexis Pinturault has only two options left, with giant slalom (February 13) and slalom (February 16), to save his Olympic Games and a growing season. more nightmarish. And try to afford the only title missing from his list. The problem is that the Savoyard does not offer the best guarantees as a giant either. Sovereign on this format a year ago (four of his five victories of the season), “Pintu” did not do better this winter than a second place in Val-d’Isère, at the beginning of December.

Still it is necessary that his shoulder does not make him suffer. So, didn’t he miss his best chance at 30, with the combined, of being Olympic champion one day? The chances of seeing him at the Milan-Cortina Games in 2026 are indeed slim. He has never hidden that he does not imagine himself skiing beyond the Courchevel Worlds in 2023. If he wants to win gold on Sunday, he will above all have to defeat the Swiss Marco Odermatt, revengeful after two inaugural failures , too, on the tracks of Yanqing. But, as Jean-Pierre Vidal says: “Anything is possible at the Games. We saw it with Johan Clarey downhill. »

The handset, an endangered species?

Removed from the World Cup calendar, the alpine combined is still on the program of the World Ski Championships and the Olympic Games. But this test is controversial. Anachronism for some, not telegenic enough for others, including the International Ski Federation, which is considering replacing it with parallel slalom, considered more spectacular, but also criticized for its lack of fairness. In Beijing, only 27 skiers took the start of the combined, when there are several dozen (up to nearly 90 athletes for the women’s slalom) in the other skiing disciplines. And again, out of the 27, only about fifteen present international references in combined.

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