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Meeting in Lausanne on 8 June 2015, the IOC Executive Board finalised the programme for the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018, which includes a number of new additions, among them the Alpine skiing national team event. Like mixed doubles curling, big air snowboarding and mass-start speed skating, its inclusion on the programme builds on the reforms embarked on in Olympic Agenda 2020.
A thrilling competition in which male and female skiers have an equal role to play, the national team event sees skiing move away from its essentially individual focus, with skiers working together and pooling their efforts in pursuit of glory.
Beginning with 16 teams, the competition will adopt a knockout format, with the winners of each heat advancing to the next round. The two teams left standing at the end of it all will fight it out for gold, with the semi-final losers racing for bronze. Teams will be seeded according to the FIS national team rankings, with the top-ranked nation facing the 16th in the opening round, the second the 15th and so on.
The event adopts a parallel format, with an individual skier from one country facing another skier of the same gender from an opposing country in a head-to-head race down two identical slalom courses on which giant slalom gates are spaced 10 metres apart. Each race lasts no more than 25 seconds, while each team comprises two men and two women and a further two skiers in reserve. The first race in each heat is between two female skiers, followed by two males and then the remaining two females and the remaining two males.
Teams score one point for a race win. If both skiers ski off or fall, the skier who has progressed further down the course is declared the winner. In the event of both teams winning two races apiece, the nation with the lowest combined time of their best man and best woman will win the heat.
In the team event, skiers often punch the gates out of the way and even take them with them on occasion. Making a fast start is vitally important, with participants clutching on to handles at the start gate and launching themselves down the course when the start light turns green. Getting an advantage at the first gate can often prove decisive.
The FIS staged the very first Alpine skiing team event at the 2005 World Championships in Bormio (ITA). Austria have won the title three times, France twice, and Germany once. The French are the reigning world champions, with the quartet of Adeline Baud, Alexis Pinturault, Tessa Worley and Mathieu Faivre edging out the Slovakian four of Petra Vhlova, Andreas Zampa, Veronica Velez Zuzulova and Matej Falat by 0.08 seconds after the teams had claimed two wins apiece in the 2017 final, held in St Moritz. Sweden beat Switzerland to the bronze.
“It’s one race after another, which makes it physically and mentally tiring,” said Pinturault after his country’s win. “The team really has to work together to get everyone motivated again for each run. The fact that we get to share this win makes me even happier. You get to feel so many different things. We sort of miss that in this sport, because it’s individual. We’re always in our little corner. You savour the moment in your little corner, but you also feel a little silly too.”
“It was a huge challenge all day long,” added Worley. “We had a very tight heat against Sweden in the semis and again against Slovakia in the final. There was very little between us. We didn’t know what our chances were at the start of the day, but it's great that we went out and won gold. We’re so happy.”
While Pinturault played a decisive part in the win over the Swedes, beating Andre Myrher, and Faivre secured an all-important victory over Falat in the final, both played down their contributions, preferring instead to focus on the team effort in an event that is sure to provide lots of exciting entertainment at PyeongChang 2018.