ROSA KHUTOR, Russia — With a half-second lead after the first run, Mikaela Shiffrin spiced things up in the second leg of the Olympic women’s slalom by nearly getting bucked out of the course and making an amazing recovery to claim gold on Friday night.
In doing so, the 18-year-old rose to the occasion amid the hype and expectations to become the youngest-ever Olympic gold medalist in women’s slalom. She became the first athlete from the United States to win the Olympic gold medal in the slalom since Phil Mahre in 1984 and the first woman since Barbara Ann Cochran in 1972.
“It’s tough to describe my feelings,” Shiffrin said moments after the win. “This has been a dream of mine for a very long time.”
Austrians Marlies Schild and Kathrin Zettel, who finished the first run sixth and seventh, respectively, were able to leapfrog a handful of contenders to snatch up the other two spots on the podium. The veterans were equally emotional with their results: Schild the silver and Zettel the bronze.
Shiffrin conquered the granular slush and choppy ruts that took other podium contenders, including Maria Hoefl-Riesch and Tina Maze, out of medal contention. For Shiffrin, it was something shy of flawless as she seemed to nearly give away the entire lead in a single turn, requiring a dynamic recovery off her inside ski and strong skiing through to the finish. Still, she held off Schild, who has two other Olympic slalom medals to her name, by just over a half-second. Hoefl-Riesch’s loss of balance just before hitting a flat section effectively ejected her from the podium, while Maze’s defensive second run was only good enough for eighth.
“It’ was a crazy moment,” Shiffrin said of the near-disaster in her second run. “I was going very fast, and I thought I was not going to make it. It scared me half to death.”
She wasn’t the only one who was scared.
“I thought it’s over,” said women’s tech coach Roland Pfiefer. “Sometimes Mikaela, for some reason when she is really hammering it, she gets a little in the backseat. She is overdoing it, letting the skis get a little hot, shooting out. So she overdid it in the second run, and that was brutal. I thought, it’s over. But luckily she was really ripping the top and it was just good enough to win.”
Meanwhile, the 32-year-old Schild, on the opposite end of the age spectrum from Shiffrin, became the oldest Olympic slalom medalist in history.
“After my first run I was very disappointed because I had such a bad feeling going down the hill. So I tried to change everything in the second run,” said Schild. “Of course, gold is missing but I am so happy to be on the podium here.”
For Zettel, who lost a grandmother two days ago, it’s been an emotional week. She said in the post-race press conference she knew this would be her last shot at an Olympic medal.
“What can I say, I knew there was a little chance after run one,” said Zettel. “I wasn’t super far behind the podium; the slope got better, and I put all my power and risk together, all into one run. … It’s been a horrible week, I had a lot of expectations and tears. … I am dedicating this medal to my grandmother. She would be proud of me and she is watching over me right now.”
Shiffrin, who also shared her first career podium with Schild, said the Austrian veteran has been an inspiration and a role model. “I’m just so excited to be able to share this moment with her,” Shiffrin said. “It seems like the first time I do anything, she’s there, and pushing me to do it. So I’m really proud of myself, and proud of her, and proud of Kathrin, and I’m proud to know we did that.”
Canadians Marie-Michele Gagnon and Brittany Phelan finished ninth and 15th, respectively, after making the most of the challenging second-run conditions. Those same conditions got the better of American Resi Stiegler, who straddled, lost a ski, and failed to finish. However, speed specialist Julia Ford put together a surprising top-25 result after starting from bib 50.
“I race slalom not as much as some of the other events, but I came on as a slalom skier,” said Ford. “It’s one of those things that comes back to me really fast. … It’s been an amazing experience. I feel really fortunate to be here and to be able to do this — and just keep improving over the next four years so I can come back and really be in there.”
“I knew second run sort of had to be an all-or-nothing sort of situation,” said Stiegler. “Obviously at the Olympics that’s what it should be. … I’m happy with the fact that my splits were fast. I felt good and I knew I was going fast.”
See more photos from the race here.
POST-RACE PRESS CONFERENCE
By Hank McKee
Women’s Olympic slalom, Sochi, Russia, Feb. 21, 2014. … It is the ninth of 10 alpine events at the 22nd Winter Olympics, the fifth of five for women. … It is the 35th Olympic slalom… the 18th for women. … There have been four U.S. Olympic slalom winners: Gretchen Fraser ’48, Andrea Mead Lawrence ’52, Barbara Cochran ’72 and Phil Mahre ’84. Austrians have won seven, Germans three, Canada one, Croatia one, Italy four, Liechtenstein one, Norway two, Spain one, Switzerland four and Sweden two. Maria Hoefl-Riesch is the defending gold medalist. It’s 37.6 degrees Fahrenheit at the start, 39.7 at the finish during first run; 32 at the start, 39.9 at the finish for second run.
It is the first Olympic medal for Mikaela Shiffrin. … The 44th in alpine for the U.S., the 16th gold and the fifth U.S. gold in slalom, the Olympic record for slalom gold. It is her fourth win of the season. She is now the reigning Olympic, World and World Cup slalom champion.
It is the fourth Olympic medal for Marlies Schild, her second straight slalom silver. … It is her fourth podium result of the season.
It is the first Olympic medal for Kathrin Zettel, though she had been fourth twice in combined, 2006 and 2010. … It is her second podium finish of the season, the first from Soelden Oct. 26. … She had been fourth three times this season.
It is the best of three Olympic results for Marie-Michelle Gagnon… the first Olympic finish for both Brittany Phelan and for Julia Ford.
Alpine medal count: Austria two gold, three silver, two bronze; Canada one bronze; Croatia one silver; France one silver, one bronze; Germany one gold, one silver, one bronze; Italy one silver, one bronze; Norway one gold, one bronze; Slovenia two gold; Switzerland two gold, one bronze; USA two gold, one silver, two bronze.
|Rank||Bib||FIS Code||Name||Year||Nation||Run 1||Run 2||Total Time||Diff.||FIS Points|
|27||52||35089||SIMARI BIRKNER Macarena||1984||ARG||59.82||56.69||1:56.51||+11.97||70.99|
|34||60||255367||VILHJALMSDOTTIR Helga Maria||1995||ISL||1:02.69||1:00.53||2:03.22||+18.68||110.79|
|Disqualified 1st run|
|Did not start 1st run|
|79||865000||BASSANI ANTIVARI Gaia||1978||AZE|
|Did not finish 2nd run|
|Did not finish 1st run|
|85||960100||DIPOL Alessia Afi||1995||TOG|
|84||955000||OETTL REYES Ornella||1991||PER|