Constant motion at a knee- pounding pace and the search for 'big air' off the two compulsory jumps rule the sport, which is enjoying its second appearance at the Games. Stine Lise Hattestad took Norway's third gold here in the women's event, while the Canadian, Jean-Luc Brassard, impressed the panel of seven judges to win the men's competition.
The holders, Donna Weinbrecht, of the United States, and the flamboyant Edgar Grospiron, of France, were denied repeat gold medals. Grospiron did take the bronze, despite a mistake just metres from the finish line. He finished behind Sergei Shupletsov, of Russia. Weinbrecht, the winner of six out of seven World Cup competitions this season, entered the finals in sixth place and slipped to a disappointing seventh after a miscue near the end of her 30-second run. Liz McIntyre saved face for the Americans with silver, ahead of the Russian, Elizaveta Kozhevnikova.
'Maybe I was pushing my run too much,' said the 28-year-old Weinbrecht, who dabbles in fashion design off the piste. 'Everything seemed to be going well until that little spill at the bottom. I still have a gold medal from Albertville, but I wish things could have gone better today.'
The 27-year-old Hattestad, who will now retire to concentrate on her economics studies, was awoken at 6am by an attack of nerves, which were not helped later by screams from the Norwegian faithful as she stood at the start. 'But I guess I ski best when I'm nervous,' she said. 'I wanted to ski on the limit. I made a small mistake, but I'm happy.'
Her run's compulsory two jumps were the 'Cossack' and a 'twister spread', just everyday terms in a jargon-filled sport which is still fighting to have its ballet speciality included in the Olympic programme.
Ballet is strongly supported by the silver-medallist McIntyre. 'It's too bad that some of the best athletes in the world were not allowed in,' said the American, who enlarged her remarks to take in freestyle skiing as a whole, which developed during the 1960s.
'People don't realise that we're serious athletes,' she said. 'A lot of people hear the music and think it's light-hearted. Maybe we are. We have a good time, we enjoy our fellow competitors, we're not a bunch of cut-throats. We have a lot of fun at what we do, but we also take it as a serious challenge.'
The British slalom skiers, Emma Anderson and Claire de Pourtales, will not compete in the women's combined because of the dangers of the downhill element. 'We decided not to risk it,' Mike Jardine, the chief executive of the British Ski Federation, said. 'It is technically a very demanding course and these two have not done any downhill training.'
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