France edge Slovakia for alpine skiing world team gold

Luke PHILLIPS
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France's skiers celebrate after winning the alpine team event at the World Championships in St Moritz on February 14, 2017

France edged Slovakia by just eight-hundredths of a second to win the team event at the World Ski Championships on Tuesday.

The final finished level at 2-2 after Alexis Pinturault and Mathieu Faivre won their races for the French, and Veronika Velez Zuzulova and Petra Vlhova for the Slovaks. The tie breaking time went in favour of France, handing them a first medal of the championships.

"Every team was very strong, every heat a tooth-and-nail battle," said Pinturault, for whom gold will go some way to make up for his disappointment at finishing 10th in Monday's combined.

Tessa Worley, the only member of the France team who also won team gold at the Garmisch worlds in 2011, added: "We didn't expect it but we were ready to fight really hard until the end.

"It was a long shot, for sure. There are so many runs to do.

"It was really, really tight! We're really happy we've won gold and we'll celebrate it with the whole team."

Adeline Baud Mugnier, who notched up a key victory over Swedish heavyweight Frida Hansdotter in the semi-final, made up the French quartet and was left basking after its success.

"It's my first podium ever, it's an amazing emotion," she beamed.

Sweden took bronze after posting a 3-1 victory over a Switzerland team featuring two individual gold medal winners in Wendy Holdener and Luca Aerni.

- Austria hopes up in smoke -

Double defending champions Austria saw their hopes of a third successive gold go up in smoke with a 4-1 defeat by Sweden in the quarter-finals.

Marcel Hirscher, chasing a sixth consecutive overall World Cup title, had a shocker of an afternoon, losing both his races. First he was subject of a massive upset when edged by Dries van den Broecke in Austria's 3-1 opening win over Belgium, before losing to Sweden's Andre Myhrer.

"If you train well, everything is possible!" said the Austria-based 21-year-old Belgian.

First introduced into the world champs in 2005, the team event will next year be included on the programme of the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

The telegenic, mixed-sex event has caught the public's imagination, with skiers racing down a slalom slope side-by-side to offer a different take on the very individualistic sport of alpine skiing.

Slovakia's Velez Zuzulova summed up what the team event meant for racers.

"I really enjoyed skiing with my younger teammates, especially with Petra," she said in reference to her compatriot Vlhova.

"We fight all winter: we're from the same country but not the same team! Today we were together going for the same goal."

Norway's Leif Kristin Haugen added: "I love this event. I think it's good for spectators too and I know people back home like it."

Pinturault had the final word, saying the gold "was a medal which will have more and more importance because it's an event that is growing and will be in the Olympics next year. The level was sensational".