DAY #14 SPORTS FOCUS: Swiss skiers just too fast, and precise, in ski cross finale

Well-timed and like clockwork, Switzerland sped to gold and silver medals in the men’s ski cross final as World Cup leader and event favorite Ryan Regez got the better of his world champion teammate Alex Fiva

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2022 Beijing Olympics - Freestyle Skiing - Men's Ski Cross - Big Final - Genting Snow Park, Zhangjiakou, China - February 18, 2022. Ryan Regez of Switzerland and Alex Fiva of Switzerland in action. REUTERS/Mike Blake
2022 Beijing Olympics - Freestyle Skiing - Men's Ski Cross - Big Final - Genting Snow Park, Zhangjiakou, China - February 18, 2022. Ryan Regez of Switzerland and Alex Fiva of Switzerland in action. REUTERS/Mike Blake

Switzerland wins more skiing Olympic medals – what else is new?

While the country’s powerhouse Alpine skiing squad has amassed five gold medals and nine in total at the Beijing Games, it was ski cross stars Ryan Regez and Alex Fiva joining the fondue and chocolate party, charging to gold and silver medals, all moves well-timed like precision Swiss clockwork, on a sunny and frigid day in Zhangjiakou.

Four Canadians and three Swiss remained alive in the medal hunt entering the 16-man quarterfinal, leading all nations. The massive 1,240-meter, twisting and turning course, that opens with numerous tabletops before competitors hit their first big jump, proceeding with numerous twists, turns, rolls and jumps provided thrills and a few spills. Racers all battled the cold, taping their faces, as temperatures at the Genting Snow Park start were a chilling minus 17 Celsius.

The current World Cup leader Regez, 29, and 2021 world champion Fiva, 36, shot out to a fast start, the duo taking command off the opening table-tops and into the first jump. The Swiss veterans remained calm, composed and fast on their skis, never relinquishing their 1-2 position, the gold and silver medals all but official coming over the final jump. Regez cruised to a gold medal victory with Fiva just behind, and a comfortable distance ahead of Russian challenger Sergey Ridzik.

2022 Beijing Olympics - Freestyle Skiing - Men's Ski Cross - Big Final - Genting Snow Park, Zhangjiakou, China - February 18, 2022. Ryan Regez of Switzerland, Alex Fiva of Switzerland, Sergey Ridzik of the Russian Olympic Committee and Erik Mobaerg of Sweden in action. REUTERS/Marko Djurica
2022 Beijing Olympics - Freestyle Skiing - Men's Ski Cross - Big Final - Genting Snow Park, Zhangjiakou, China - February 18, 2022. Ryan Regez of Switzerland, Alex Fiva of Switzerland, Sergey Ridzik of the Russian Olympic Committee and Erik Mobaerg of Sweden in action. REUTERS/Marko Djurica

“It’s kind of incredible. The whole week of training, I’ve been so nervous and had so much pressure on myself because everyone was expecting me to come here and win – well, and I did (laughs),” said Regez, who entered the competition as the favorite for gold.

“There was so much going on between that, so much going on in my head and in my stomach. I was so nervous all the time. Just being able to keep it clean in all the runs and taking the win today is absolutely incredible,” said the Swiss Olympic champion.

2022 Beijing Olympics - Freestyle Skiing - Men's Ski Cross - Final - Genting Snow Park, Zhangjiakou, China - February 18, 2022. Gold medallist Ryan Regez of Switzerland celebrates during the flower ceremony. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
2022 Beijing Olympics - Freestyle Skiing - Men's Ski Cross - Final - Genting Snow Park, Zhangjiakou, China - February 18, 2022. Gold medallist Ryan Regez of Switzerland celebrates during the flower ceremony. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

Regez built upon his speed and momentum of three consecutive World Cup victories coming at the last three events in Italy and Sweden. The Swiss skier, who lives and trains out of Wengen, the beautiful Swiss Alps resort known for another historic ski race, was overcome with emotion hugging his teammate Fiva in the finish area.

“I kind of always see what I can achieve, so for sure that would have been a goal when I started out in ski cross, but that it would actually happen and like this? No,” Regez said, asked if he envisioned himself as an Olympic champion in his sport.

Fiva, 36, who is competing in his 13th World Cup season, also possessed great momentum entering the Beijing Olympics, having recently won his first world title on his sixth attempt in Idre Fjall, Sweden in 2021.

“I saw some chances of passing him (Regez) but it’s hard to go against a Swiss guy and I had some really big fights before,” Fiva said about the final, going head-to-head, shoulder-to-shoulder with his teammate.

“So I thought maybe I don’t crash in and I just try and do it at the end. But then I made too many mistakes and I couldn’t catch up any more.

“But it’s a silver medal and always good to be on the podium with a teammate,” Fiva said.

2022 Beijing Olympics - Freestyle Skiing - Men's Ski Cross - Medal Ceremony - Genting Snow Park, Zhangjiakou, China - February 18, 2022. Silver medallist Alex Fiva of Switzerland acknowledges the crowd on the podium. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez
2022 Beijing Olympics - Freestyle Skiing - Men's Ski Cross - Medal Ceremony - Genting Snow Park, Zhangjiakou, China - February 18, 2022. Silver medallist Alex Fiva of Switzerland acknowledges the crowd on the podium. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

The Russian Ridzik claimed his second consecutive Olympic bronze medal, while Swede Erik Mobaerg was out of the medals in fourth.

The fast-paced, thrilling, unpredictable and occasionally dangerous freestyle skiing discipline, having made its Olympic debut at Vancouver 2010, Regez joins his Swiss countryman Michael Schmid as a ski cross gold medalist. Schmid was the sport’s first-ever men’s gold medalist 12 years ago.

“Michael is a huge inspiration – we come from basically a similar resort, just half an hour away,” Regez said. " He’s a really important person for me,” He just brings in so much calm and experience, and I really seek his words when I’m struggling.”

Canadian Olympic champ Leman ousted in semifinal

2022 Beijing Olympics - Freestyle Skiing - Men's Ski Cross - Semifinals - Genting Snow Park, Zhangjiakou, China - February 18, 2022. Alex Fiva of Switzerland, Sergey Ridzik of the Russian Olympic Committee, Simone Deromedis of Italy and Brady Leman of Canada in action. REUTERS/Mike Blake     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
2022 Beijing Olympics - Freestyle Skiing - Men's Ski Cross - Semifinals - Genting Snow Park, Zhangjiakou, China - February 18, 2022. Alex Fiva of Switzerland, Sergey Ridzik of the Russian Olympic Committee, Simone Deromedis of Italy and Brady Leman of Canada in action. REUTERS/Mike Blake TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

Defending Olympic champion Brady Leman appeared to be in hot water in a rough and tumble quarterfinal, but pulled some late magic out of his hat, making a well-timed pass and edging his teammate Ryan Howden to keep his gold medal aspirations alive.

However, the 35-year-old Leman was not as fortunate being eliminated shortly thereafter in the first semifinal. The Canadian veteran tactician appeared to be in commands after a slick move on right hand turn to briefly take the lead, but then experienced problems, nearly colliding with Italian Simone Deromedis. The Calgary freestyle skier was thrown off balance and never fullly recovered, finishing back in fourth, squashing his hopes for a second consecutive gold medal.

“I just got pinched on the inside gate, run out of space, and coming into the bottom straightaway I just caught them at the wrong time,” Leman said. “I thought I had enough gap that I could push on the skis all the way through the turn and accelerate and make a pass at the finish like I’ve been doing.

“Unfortunately, I caught them just two meters too soon and I skied on Simon’s Deromedis tails and slowed us both down and that’s racing sometimes,” Leman said.

Leman, who has overcome an array of injuries over recent seasons, ultimately finished in sixth place, after ending second in the small final. The 2018 Olympic champ said he has no regrets.

“It stings, but at the same time I’m still an Olympic champion at the end of the race. It’s not defending anymore,” said the Canadian veteran racer.

“I’d have loved to follow up a medal or win again, but I’m really proud of this race. I’ve had such a difficult last two years, with so many injuries and so many obstacles, and there were so many moments when I didn’t think I’d have a chance to defend that medal and I did.”

The women’s ski cross final took place on Thursday with Swede Sandra Naeslund racing to gold ahead of Canadian star Marielle Thompson, who earned her second career Olympic silver to go along with a bronze in the high-speed event, as German Daniela Maier took bronze.

Finland holds off Slovakia to advance to gold medal hockey game

2022 Beijing Olympics - Ice Hockey - Men's Play-offs Semifinals - Finland v Slovakia - National Indoor Stadium, Beijing, China - February 18, 2022. Finland players celebrate victory. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
2022 Beijing Olympics - Ice Hockey - Men's Play-offs Semifinals - Finland v Slovakia - National Indoor Stadium, Beijing, China - February 18, 2022. Finland players celebrate victory. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Finland held off a pesky and determined Slovakian squad to advance to the men’s ice hockey gold medal game, for the first time since Turin 2006.

The Finns notched a late, empty net goal clinching the shutout victory 2-0. Always rising to the occasion on the world’s largest sporting stage, the Finns have secured their seventh medal across the last 10 Winter Games.

The feisty Finns will take on the winner of the afternoon Sweden versus Russian Olympic Committee semifinal, as the Russians are attempting to defend their Olympic gold from PyeongChang 2018.

Maybe Alex Ovechkin will be home watching.

Follow Brian on Twitter - @Brian_Pinelli

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