Johnny Teller, hailing from Mammoth Lakes in California's Eastern Sierra, was the lone American wolf in the pack Thursday for men's ski cross. The 30-year-old former alpine racer, making his first Olympic appearance, skied hard, but caught one of the tough breaks the discipline is known for and did not advance through the 1/8 final.
Teller, starting in the far outside position at the pull, tucked in from fourth and jockeyed hard for second position with Jonathan Midol (FRA). At one point, Teller made shoulder-to-shoulder contact with the Frenchman, but both recovered quickly. In the final turn leading to the last kicker and the finish line, however, Teller and Midol again had a moment. In what looked, potentially, like a more aggressive brush-up, Teller was edged out and washed to the side, his place recorded with a DNF. While it seemed debatable as to whether or not Midol straight-armed the American, it would have been a difficult violation to prove beyond any doubt; race officials did not make such a call, and Midol was permitted to advance.
Ski cross has a deserved reputation as an always-unpredictable event, with the derby-style format lending itself to body contact that is unsanctioned, but a natural result of four men racing simultaneously through tight corners and big jumps in less than 90 seconds. Surprise crashes happened at every stage, exemplified best by what might be the most penguin-esque photo finish on record:
— Sochi 2014 (@Sochi2014) February 20, 2014
Midol went on to take bronze in what ended in a French sweep of the podium, with countrymen Jean Frederic Chapuis and Arnaud Bovolenta taking gold and silver, respectively. Interestingly (but not out of the question in an event like this), none of the defending medalists from Vancouver, where the event made its Olympic debut in 2010, made it to the final heat: Michael Schmid (SUI, gold) suffered a knee injury and did not move past seeding, while Andreas Matt (AUT, silver) and Andreas Schauer (GER, bronze) both lost out in their quarterfinal races.
Course conditions Thursday were vastly improved over Tuesday's situation at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, with cold temps keeping the snow fast and firm and clearing skies holding off flat light and fog. The men's ski cross event kicked off with 32 of the world's best racers taking solo laps in seeding on a venue that resembled, but didn't quite mirror, the snowboard cross course where spectators watched American Alex Deibold win bronze just two days ago. With two additional turns, one more step-up, and a right-hand turn flipped into a left, the ski cross course was designed specifically to play to two-plank skills, much as the alternate configuration was optimal for a snowboard.
MEN'S SKI CROSS FINAL RESULTS
1. Jean Frederic Chapuis (FRA)
2. Arnaud Bovolenta (FRA)
3. Jonathan Midol (FRA)
4. Brady Leman (CAN)
5. Egor Korotkov (RUS)
6. Filip Flisar (SLO)
7. Armin Niederer (SUI)
8. Florian Eigler (GER) – DNF
More Winter Olympics stories on GrindTV
Ones to watch in women's ski halfpipe
Which tricks will win debut of women's Olympic halfpipe skiing?
Maddie Bowman spins for gold in Sochi
Heidi Kloser featured in ad despite mishap
Snowboarders, freeskiers see injury disparity between genders at Sochi
In his own words, Olympic ski cross racer John Teller
Olympic rings trip up Nate Holland again
Aaron Blunck inspired by action sports 'doll'
American David Wise wins halfpipe skiing gold