Cautious Crétier in seventh heaven
The Olympic downhill is always eagerly awaited, and in Nagano the sense of anticipation was especially prolonged, as bad weather meant the race was delayed three times and eventually took place five days later than originally scheduled.
Even then, high winds meant the start was delayed for 40 minutes. When the competition finally got under way, the skiers faced a huge challenge – a demanding course that included a particularly tough jump at Gate 7. It had been modified by officials before the start of the race, but was still destined to play a huge part in the outcome.
Crétier went off third. He had never won a World Cup race, and had never won a world championship medal, yet he carried on his shoulders a great burden of expectation, as no Frenchman had won the Olympic downhill since Jean-Claude Killy three decades earlier.
Crétier was 31 years old and a veteran of three previous Winter Games. He hadn't even competed in the downhill in the first two, and had placed 24th in Lillehammer four years earlier. Few expected him to shine in Nagano, but as it turned out he had a clever tactic up his sleeve – caution.
At Gate 7, Crétier slowed a little, making sure he came through in one piece, and then sped up over the rest of the course. He crossed the line in 1 minute 50.11 seconds, which was the quickest time so far, but still not expected to be fast enough to win gold.
However, the course then started catching the other leading contenders out. A succession of skiers crashed at Gate 7, notably the brilliant Hermann Maier, who wiped out in dramatic style. In total, no fewer than 14 competitors saw their race cut short at Gate 7.Getty
Nobody could match Crétier’s time. Norway's Lasse Kjus came closest, but even he was a full 0.4 seconds behind. Once the frontrunners had all tried, and failed, to beat his mark it became clear that the unsung Frenchman was going to win gold.
He phoned his young son at home to share the good news, before climbing to the top of the Olympic podium to celebrate his first ever major victory.