MERIBEL, France — Broken bones. Surgeries. Rehab. Stinging losses.
American resilience and a never-give-up attitude following a series of physical and mental challenges paid off for Nina O’Brien, Tommy Ford, Paula Moltzan and River Radamus at the world Alpine skiing championships on Tuesday — all the way to gold in the team event.
O’Brien had to endure four surgeries after a gruesome compound fracture at the Beijing Olympics that left her bone protruding from her left leg. Ford suffered a concussion, damaged ligaments and the meniscus in his right knee, broke his tibial plateau and hurt his wrist during a devastating crash on the famed giant slalom course in Adelboden, Switzerland, two years ago.
Moltzan competed for most of last season with a broken left hand, while Radamus kept on pushing after just missing the podium with three fourth-place results at big events — in giant slalom and the team event in Beijing and again in combined at worlds last week.
The four Americans teamed up to edge defending champion Norway 3-2 in the final and each earn their first senior-level gold medal.
It marked the first U.S. medal in the team event, which debuted at the world championships in 2005 and was part of the last two Olympics. A U.S. team with Mikaela Shiffrin placed fourth at last year’s Olympics. The team event has since been cut from the Olympics.
Most of the world’s top skiers did not take part in Tuesday’s event — including Shiffrin — many to prioritize preparing for individual events later this week.
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“We’ve all gone through the ringer a bit,” Ford said. “We heal up, and we can still ski and really I’m grateful to be here, and I think everyone else is, too.”
Ford won the final, decisive run when Timon Haugan got stuck in the start.
“I didn’t see him out of the corner of my eye,” Ford said. “I knew he was fast, so I was just like, something must have happened. But I wasn’t going to let up at all.”
Canada beat Olympic champion Austria for the bronze medal.
The event featured teams of two men and two women with four runs of parallel racing in each round.
The United States beat Poland, Italy and Canada to reach the final.
It had been 2-2 in the final after Moltzan and Thea Louise Stjernesund finished in a tie in the penultimate heat.
Moltzan broke her left hand again in her final run, damaging three fingers.
“Paula gave absolutely everything on that run. It was pretty inspiring,” Radamus said. “And then for Tommy to have to clutch up in the end there, I think he’s so steady, always so even keel, doesn’t let the moment get to him. And he was able to execute and perform there, which is really cool.”
O’Brien won the opening heat of the final against Kristin Lysdahl.
“Being here at the world championships was a big goal of mine,” O’Brien said. “But getting to celebrate and share today with our team is just something special I never expected.”
Alexander Steen Olsen of Norway narrowly edged Radamus.
“I really buy into this team event,” said Radamus, who won a combined five golds at the Youth Olympics and the junior worlds. “From an outsider’s perspective, ski racing is an individual sport, but to me it’s all about team.
“Tommy and Nina and Paula — I’m on the road with them all year round, and especially as Americans in a European-dominated sport, we spend a lot of time together over here,” Radamus added. “So everything I do is because they are motivating me and pushing me to do it. And so to be able to celebrate like this together is so special to me.”
The team gold highlighted how the U.S. squad is no longer only about Shiffrin.
Moltzan has been on the podium in slalom this season, O’Brien placed 10th in the final giant slalom before worlds and Jett Seymour achieved an almost unheard-of seventh-place finish in World Cup slalom with the No. 59 bib 10 days ago — then followed that up by winning a second-tier Europa Cup slalom by nearly a full second.
“Everybody is fired up and has a lot of confidence,” U.S. Alpine director Patrick Riml said. “So we’ll see what’s going to happen next. We got a strong team.”
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