By Julien Pretot
PARIS, Jan 20 (Reuters) - Jean-Frederic Chapuis casually thinks about becoming Olympic champion in Sochi next month.
The first Frenchman to be crowned ski cross world champion, Chapuis turned his sights towards the discipline after failing to make it to the highly competitive French Alpine skiing national team.
"What I liked in ski cross is the direct confrontation with your rivals," Chapuis, who made his World Cup debut in 2010, told Reuters.
"It also perfectly suits my instinctive side."
With four skiers starting from the same gate and extremely high chances of crashes, ski cross is rather unpredictable, but there is no result without hard work.
"It's just that the attitude is more easy going than in Alpine skiing. Otherwise there is at least as much training involved," the 24-year-old Chapuis explained.
Michel Lucatelli, the head of the French ski cross national team, said Chapuis had huge potential.
"He has good instincts, he's fast and technical on the skis," said Lucatelli.
Last year, Chapuis went into the world championships with only one World Cup podium finish, but a series of perfect runs helped him score a major upset to take the title.
He followed up with his maiden World Cup victory in Are, Sweden and this season Chapuis has been more consistent, currently sitting sixth in the world rankings.
"I have been learning from my mistakes," he said.
Since his World Cup debut, Chapuis has finished in the top 10 in 16 of his 29 races - the kind of ratio only seasoned skiers usually manage.
Inevitably, the pressure will increase come the Games, where Chapuis will be among the top contenders.
"Putting pressure on myself for the Games will lead to nothing," he said.
"I'm doing ski cross, a discipline in which you cannot predict much. If luck is not on your side you cannot do anything even if now I'm among the favourites at the start of every event.
"I'm ready for that. It will be my first Games so we will see. I know no placing matters beyond third."
Should he falter, Chapuis is confident one of his team mates will claim a podium placing for France.
"The fact that I'm not on my own, that we are a team with everyone capable of winning, eases the pressure," he explained.
"So I'm more serene.
"The world title, of course, puts pressure on my shoulders but there is an upside. I can tell myself 'If it worked out once, why not twice ?"
France, however, will miss world championships runner-up Bastien Midol, who has been ruled out of the Games after sustaining a serious back injury in a World Cup event in San Candido, Italy, last month. (Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Gene Cherry)
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