PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (Reuters) - Victor Muffat-Jeandet staged an astonishing turnaround and endured an excruciating wait before helping end France’s 70-year Olympic medal drought in the men’s Alpine combined on Tuesday.
Muffat-Jeandet took bronze behind compatriot Alexis Pinturault and Austrian champion Marcel Hirscher to give France their first medals in the event since Henri Oreiller won gold and James Couttet bronze in 1948.
While Pinturault had been one of the favorites at the Jeongseon Alpine Centre, the chances of Muffat-Jeandet landing a medal had looked dead and buried when he recorded the 29th fastest time in the downhill run.
“I was really disappointed and angry with my downhill run,” he told reporters.
“In skiing, you have to do two full runs and with guys like Pinturault and Hirscher, if you do one bad run, it’s not enough for the podium.”
Second out in the slalom as a consequence, the 28-year-old judged his run on the icy slope perfectly and crossed the line in 46.97 seconds, only a hundredth of a second outside the time Hirscher clocked for gold.
“For me it was still not enough,” he said. “There was still Marcel, still Alexis, and some downhillers who are quite good in slalom.
“It was a long wait, guys after guys. In the end everyone was telling me ‘okay, it’s going to be okay’, and I was like ‘No way, there’s still three or four guys’.
“Finally, I had no more emotion and I was flat.”
Muffat-Jeandet had recovered his emotions sufficiently by the time he spoke to reporters to start enjoying his unlikely triumph.
“In my dreams I always wanted to be a skiing champion, but I didn’t even think about an Olympic medal,” he added with a beaming smile.
“It seemed such a long way away, the Olympic Games. It’s my first Olympic Games qualification, my first race, and I won a medal.”
The two Frenchman won the only two combined events run on the World Cup circuit this year but Pinturault admitted that when it comes to slalom Hirscher is in a league of his own.
“He’s actually really unbeatable in this discipline this year,” he said.
“So I knew that it’s going to be difficult, tight, and I had to do my best to make anything.
“I’m simply happy. Proud, too, of what Victor and I did, and also for having fought in such a good way to bring home this silver medal.”
Editing by Ed Osmond