- POSTED: 19 Dec 2013 02:01
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France's rich tradition of alpine skiing success at the Winter Olympics has taken a devastating blow in recent months with the women's team in particular being decimated by injuries heading to Sochi 2014.
PARIS: France's rich tradition of alpine skiing success at the Winter Olympics has taken a devastating blow in recent months with the women's team in particular being decimated by injuries heading to Sochi 2014.
The women's team have played second fiddle to their male counterparts when it comes down to French Olympic medals at the past two Games at Vancouver and Turin, while Carole Montillet remains the only French woman to triumph in the blue riband downhill race at Salt Lake City in 2002.
Injuries to world downhill champion Marion Rolland and global giant slalom gold medallist Tessa Worley leave the French ladies without their two biggest stars while leading slalomist Laurie Mougel is also out for the season.
"It's a tough blow for skiing. We've gone from light to darkness overnight," said French Ski Federation director Fabien Saguez following Worley's knee ligament damage that rules her out of Sochi.
Montillet's win was the first gold medal won by a Frenchwoman in alpine skiing since Marielle Goitschel's triumph in the women's slalom event at Grenoble 1968
She dedicated her win to the late 2001 super-G world champion Regine Cavagnoud who was deprived her chance to win Olympic gold when she was killed in a training accident later that year when she collided with a German coach in Austria.
"I think this came from heaven," said Montillet at the time.
"I can't stop myself from thinking that Regine helped me today. From on high she is very proud of us," Montillet said.
"Every day, I think about Regine," Montillet said. "Today I wanted to go fast, and I did it."
Montillet's scintillating triumph at Salt Lake remains a highlight in French women's skiing history but it has been the men who have enjoyed greater success, often when least expected on the slopes that host their sport's most coveted races.
The mythical Henri Oreiller, who fought for the French resistance during World War II before going on to win the first ever Olympic downhill in 1948 at St. Moritz, started the gold rush, although he would meet a tragic destiny, being killed at the wheel of a Ferrari in 1962.
Jean Vuarnet, the founder of the designer sunglasses and a Tunisian-born Frenchman continued the French gravy train by taking 1960 Olympic downhill gold at Squaw Valley where compatriot Guy Perrilat grabbed bronze.
Perhaps the greatest French skiier of them all, Jean-Claude Killy was most renowned for becoming the first man to win three Olympic skiing golds at the 1968 Games at Grenoble, before going on to become an IOC member and successful businessman, as well as helping organise the 1992 Albertville Olympics.
A long drought followed for the Frenchmen, apart from Franck Piccard's downhill bronze at Calgary 1988 and a silver four years later, but Jean-Luc Cretier restored skiing pride in 1998 when he won the only race of his career at the Nagano Games before he retired.
Jean-Pierre Vidal won the 2002 slalom gold under the Salt Lake City rain to become the next champion before Antoine Deneriaz shocked the field at Turin 2006 to become the fifth French downhill champion after Oreiller, Vuarnet, Killy and Cretier.
It remains to be seen how the French will cope with their crippled women's team, but they have a tendency to surprise at major events and a future Killy or Montillet is never beyond the grasp of an unpredictable yet flamboyant sporting nation.