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Pitching boarders against boarders and skiers against skiers, the all-new team ski-snowboard cross competition served up plenty of thrills and spills on Tuesday.
Team ski-snowboard cross made a dramatic YOG debut at Lillehammer 2016 on Tuesday, with teams featuring two boys and two girls – a skier and a boarder for each sex – facing off in four-team relay races.
The race order sees the female snowboarders first out of the gate. As soon as they cross the finish line, the female skiers hit the course, followed in turn by the male snowboarders and, finally, the male skiers. Competitors are only allowed out of the start gate once their preceding team-mate completes their run, with every athlete on the course being roared home by their colleagues at the bottom, all of which gives the event the same kind of feel as swimming relays.
Taking part in Tuesday’s competition on the Hafjell cross course were 44 riders in 11 teams, some of them made up of athletes from a single NOC, such as Germany, Russia, Australia, Austria, Switzerland and USA, and the rest comprising athletes from a mix of NOCs.
The German quartet of Jana Fischer (snowboard), Celia Funkler (ski), Sebastian Pietrzykowski (snowboard) and Cornel Renn (ski) made their presence felt in winning their quarter-final and semi-final. Following it home in that semi was Mixed Team 4, featuring a Ukrainian, two Swedes and a Bulgarian, with Mixed Team 1 (a Spaniard and three Canadians) taking victory in the other semi from Switzerland.
A silver medallist in the women’s individual snowboard cross, Sophie Hediger gave Switzerland the edge in the first leg of the final, with women’s ski cross champion Talina Gentebein and Pascal Bitschnau maintaining the Swiss lead on legs two and three, though a storming run by men’s snowboard cross bronze medallist Pietrzykowski put Germany right in contention for gold.
Setting off just behind Switzerland’s Sascha Rueedi, Renn then reeled in and passed his opponent to claim victory for the German four, while a photo finish was needed to separate Sweden’s David Mobaerg of Mixed Team 4 from Rueedi, with the decision going the Swiss skier’s way.
“It feels awesome to be an Olympic gold medallist,” said Renn. “I didn’t think it before, but it was [great] that there was a team competition. Everyone could show [their] skills. We had a good team so we had the chance to win. And we did. This is a new Olympic sport and it’s a good idea.”
The German anchorman saw victory as payback for his unfortunate tumble in the semi-finals of the ski cross competition: “Is it a redemption?” he asked. “You could say that.”
Swedish skier Veronica Edebo, who won bronze with Mixed Team 4, was every bit as enthusiastic about the competition: “That’s the beauty of the sport: you never know,” she said. “It’s not finished until the final is done.”