- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 19, 2014

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) - Finally, France is on the Alpine medals table at the Sochi Olympics.

Steve Missillier and Alexis Pinturault both stepped up to the podium Wednesday, finishing second and third in a men’s giant slalom won by American favorite Ted Ligety.

If Pinturault’s bronze was predicted, Missillier’s silver was an unexpected bonus for a guy who has never finished better than fourth in the event on the World Cup circuit.

“I’m very happy to be a surprise,” said the 29-year-old Missillier, who earned his first major medal Wednesday. “Second place, it’s incredible for me. But Olympic Games is a race of the day and all is possible.”

Pinturault, meanwhile, is one of giant slalom’s big three, with Ligety and Marcel Hirscher of Austria.

Sixth-fastest in the first run led by Ligety, Pinturault even extended his advantage over Hirscher in the afternoon.

Still, the French star’s time fell short of the standard set by Missillier, who soared up the standings from 10th in the morning.

“He can ski really fast sometimes,” Pinturault said of his less heralded teammate. “For sure, it is not always easy for him.”

It has not been easy for the 22-year-old Pinturault since he arrived in Sochi with Ligety last week on the same flight from Zurich.

Pinturault was expected to open France’s medal account in the super-combined last Friday, but he skied out in the slalom portion when lured into a mistake on a tricky course setting.

“Especially in super-combined, everybody was waiting for us and we didn’t get any medals,” he said Wednesday, acknowledging he had been “a little lost” handling his first Olympics. “I was a lot less stressed today than at the super-combined. It was important for me (to get a medal).”

French expectations were raised by an exceptional 2013 world championships when the men and women combined to bring home four medals.

However, world champions Marion Rolland (downhill) and Tessa Worley (giant slalom) missed the Olympics through season-ending injuries, and world super-G silver medalist Gauthier De Tessieres retired after failing to make the team.

That left David Poisson, who won downhill bronze a year ago, as the only world championship medalist in Sochi, and he managed just 16th as the best-placed Frenchman in the marquee race.

Men’s giant slalom then became France’s best chance.

“It was a big race for me, for Steve and for Ted,” said Pinturault, praising Ligety for a dominating victory. “He is the strongest today and the strongest of these last years in giant slalom and he won it.”

Pressure lifted off him, Pinturault will take on a strongly favored Hirscher on Saturday in the slalom, a race to be held under floodlights.

“It will be more easy for me,” Pinturault said, “after this medal.”

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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