France sweeps men's skicross

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia -- The sport may be unpredictable. The results looked like anything but a free-for-all.

France. France. France.

Vive le skicross.

Jean Frederic Chapuis led the first French medals sweep in Winter Olympics history Thursday, taking gold while Arnaud Bovolenta won silver and Jonathan Midol walked away with bronze.

"Two good friends. I can't explain how it feels," Midol said. "We had a dream to make the podium with friends. The Olympic Games, three French on the podium is incredible."

The three bolted ahead quickly in front of the fourth finalist of Thursday's medal race, Canada's Brady Leman. Leman briefly passed Midol for the third position but wiped out two-thirds of the way down the mountain, meaning the French only had to stay upright to make history.

They did. Sort of.

The threesome skied to the line single file. Chapuis crossed first. Then Bovolenta. Then Midol, who couldn't regain his balance after the final jump and tumbled, skidding across the finish to win the bronze.

Later, they posed on the podium together: Chapuis in his Olympic-issue green bib, Bovolenta in blue, Midol in yellow. They all put hands on their own tricolor -- the French flag -- and held it aloft.

"We practice together all the time," Bovolenta said. "Jean is fast, he's a world champion. Sometimes it's Midol, sometimes it's [10th-place finisher] Jonas Devossau and sometime it's me."

The French have mastered this course. Earlier in the week, Pierre Vaultier won the men's snowboardcross contest to give his country its first medal in that sport's version of side-by-side racing.

Half the country's four gold medals at these Olympics have come from the most unpredictable of venues: the spill-filled racing hill where the deck gets constantly shuffled.

The scene that showcased the chaos best came in the day's first quarterfinal, when Sweden's Victor Oehling Norberg was comfortably in the lead approaching the finish but lost an edge and wiped out. That caused Egor Korotkov of Russia to fall and Finland's Jouni Pellinen tumbled, too.

Switzerland's Armin Niederer somehow skied off to the side to stay upright. The photo finish for second involved three skiers, none of them upright. Korotkov won out among the cluster of flailing skis and poles and ended up finishing fifth.

The closest any of the French came to falling came in the day's first heat, when Midol and American John Teller were racing side-by-side and trading elbows for position. Midol won that showdown, Teller skied off course and the French didn't face much trouble during the rest of a near-cloudless day in which conditions on the course changed almost by the meter -- wavering between slushy and hard depending on how the sun hit the mountain.

The French hadn't swept the medals at any Olympics since the 1924 Summer Games in Paris.

Ninety years later in Russia, this unlikely trio came through.

Chapuis, who has dual citizenship in Switzerland, was a member of the Swiss national Alpine ski team before he switched disciplines and countries. He had the fastest qualifying time among his teammates and was also enjoying the best season of the Frenchmen, with four top-10s heading into Sochi.

Bovolenta broke his collarbone, shoulder blade and two ribs in July 2013, an accident that happened on a bike, when his tire burst while he was riding in the French Alps.

Midol skied for Westminster College in Salt Lake City. He came to the Olympics with only one top-10 finish this season and will leave with the bronze medal and his own place among the country's sports icons.

How will they celebrate?

"We'll drink a little bit," Midol said. "We'll see. A big party it will be."