Alpine skiing: Unlikely heroes lead France to medal heaven

A trio of underdogs rather than title favourites has France rejoicing at the World Ski Championships, as it takes the lead in the medal table with a perfect set of gold, silver and bronze.

A shock win by Marion Rolland in the women's downhill on Sunday was the crowning achievement of this first week for the blue-white-and-red team, after Gauthier de Tessieres kicked off the medal hunt with silver in the super-G on Wednesday, followed by David Poisson's downhill bronze on Saturday.

"It's a fantastic day for France," raved French ski legend Luc Alphand, who is working here as a consultant for French television.

"A third medal for France, and a gold medal: that's a title. World champion is quite something."

This success came from unexpected places however.

De Tessieres, 31, had only one World Cup podium to his name before ascending the one in Schladming and was not even in the French team for the world championships until his teammate Johan Clarey was ruled out due to injury and he was asked to step in at the last minute.

Rolland, 30, had two World Cup podiums -- achieved, tellingly, in Schladming in the finals last year -- while Poisson had a grand total of zero, with just seven top-10 places in nine seasons.

Much better odds had been given to younger teammates like Adrien Theaux, Alexis Pinturault and Tessa Worley.

But experience may have been the key to winning in the end.

"We're all about the same age and we've all had difficult spells," Rolland said after her downhill triumph.

"I think we now have the necessary maturity to come to these world championships and know what it's like to go beyond ourselves and give everything on the course."

"De Tessieres, Poisson, or Marion today: they're all athletes in their 30s, who have had quite a hard time," French ski federation president Michel Vion told AFP.

"In a way, it's revenge for the three. They are veteran warriors, and they grabbed the right opportunities.

"A good team is inevitably one or two leaders, older ones with maturity, and younger ones coming in. You need a mix."

A super-G debacle for the French women in the opening race of the world championships drew a "violent" telling-off by their coach, Rolland said.

But this may have helped spur them on, and indirectly led to her world title. "We have a strong men's team but for the girls, we were not sure about anything," said Alphand.

"They started really badly with the super-G, and all the coaches were really upset. But they really pushed them to the limit and it worked."

For technical director Fabien Saguez, the latest triumph was a step in the right direction on the way to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

"We had zero medals in Vancouver and in a way, that was the starting point for today's success. We have started on our way. Now we are focused on what will happen next year," he said.

With three medals in the bag, the French team is not about to sit back on its laurels.

Pinturault and Thomas Mermillod-Blondin are top contenders for the men's super-combined on Monday, while Worley could grab a medal in the women's giant slalom later in the week.

"There are still many chances of a medal," Alphand concluded confidently.