France's Pierre Vaultier added another snowboard cross Olympic Winter Games gold medal to the one he won at Sochi 2014 following an action-packed final at PyeongChang 2018.
Vaultier edged Australia's Jarryd Hughes into second place, while Spain's Regino Hernandez claimed bronze at Phoenix Snow Park on Thursday 15 February.
The top three riders from each of the eight heats advanced to the quarter and semi-finals, with six then contesting the final. Vaultier, a five-time World Cup champion, looked comfortable in the early stages of the competition but was involved in a three-man crash in the semi-final.
The Frenchman, however, was the first to get up and qualified in third place. Olympic Athlete of Russia’s Nikolay Olyunin was also involved in the incident and did not finish the race.
There was yet more drama in the final as US athletes Nick Baumgartner and Mick Dierdoff collided with Australian Alex Pullin, who did not finish. Vaultier then crossed the line narrowly ahead of Hughes and Hernandez, with the battle for silver even tighter.
Hernandez’s bronze secured Spain’s third medal in Olympic Winter Games history, after winning a slalom gold at San Francisco 1972 and bronze at Albertville 1992.
Vaultier admitted to feeling emotional afterwards. He saidwinning gold for a second time eclipsed the feelinghe experienced at Sochi 2014. “The first one was incredible, he said.“I came back from injury two months before the Games andit meant a lot.I can’t even say why, but this one means even more. It’s a great second gold medal. I’m having trouble saying how I feel. I'm on the verge of tears because I’ve got over the line. These are huge emotions.”
The 30-year-old admitted he needed a slice of luck in the semi-final, but also that he felt he could go on to win having made it to the final. “I have a guardian angel,” he said.“In the semi-final, when I crashed with silver medallist Jarryd Hughes, I stepped out of my binding to push on top of the kicker and finished in third place. That was so sick. A piece of bad luck turned into an unexpected piece of good luck. My coach said to me: 'Nothing else can happen to you now. You smash the final and no one will be able to take anything away from you.' And that’s just what happened.”
Hard work secures silver and bronze
Australian Hughes was glad to see all of his training come to fruition when it mattered. He said: “I’m so happy, it was a great race and it was a long haul, especially after having to do a second run in qualifying. That was a little disappointing. To come out and put the fourth-fastest run down was really good and now I’m really happy I get to celebrate it with my friends and family and get to enjoy it. I think it’s just great to see all of the hard work paying off.”
Bronze medal winner Hernandez felt a huge sense of pride in making history for his nation. He also said thathis podium finish was the culmination of years of working long hours in sometimes challenging conditions.
“For Spain, the last medal was 26 years ago [in Albertville, 1992], so this is history for my country,” he said. “It’s a lot of years working for this competition, just for one day. If you feel good you can do good. But maybe you can be sick, or sleep bad that night, it’s something incredible. The last Olympics ends and you start to train for the next one and this is so hard. In the morning you must work and a long time, if it is snowing, you must train. I am just so, so happy.”