Mikaela Shiffrin narrowly missed a podium finish in the slalom at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, falling short in her bid to become the first U.S. skier to win three gold medals and failing to win a medal in the event she won at the 2014 Games.
Shiffrin wasn’t able to claw back enough time from a first run that left her in fourth place and nearly half a second behind the leaders — and that’s where she remained after the top skiers raced their second and final run of the day. In the end, she was a combined 0.40 seconds off the No. 1 time and just .08 seconds from being third.
“Right now, I’m more disappointed with how I felt on my skis today than being in fourth,” Shiffrin said later. “And that’s maybe the one saving grace about today for me, is that I’m not lying when I tell you: It’s not about the medals, it’s not about winning races, but it’s about how I feel on my skis.”
Sweden’s Frida Hansdotter — who turned in the second-fastest time in both of her runs — won gold and Switzerland’s Wendy Holdener won silver. Bronze went to Austria’s Katharina Gallhuber, who had been in ninth place after the first run — but who turned in the only time below 49 seconds on the second run to vault past Shiffrin and the other skiers.
As she tried to carve time out of the slalom course on her second run, Shiffrin flew down the mountain. Her quick interval times seemed to be promising a trip to the podium, perhaps even a shot at gold. The crowd was roaring. But Shiffrin had a little trouble with the top of the course at Yongpyong Alpine Center in Pyeongchang, as well as with the much flatter bottom portion — and when she crossed the finish line, Shiffrin had turned in a second-place time, with the top three skiers still remaining.
The result seemed to frustrate Shiffrin, who held her hands up in the air. Before heading off the course, she paused to watch the replay of her run on a large outdoor TV monitor.
“I know that this is going to sound so arrogant,” Shiffrin told journalists — and adopting a quiet voice, she continued: “I know that I’m the best slalom skier in the world. Because I’ve done that skiing so much, and what I did in the race today was not even close to that. But the race is when it counts.”
She talked later about going from winning a gold in giant slalom to being shut out in the slalom today.
“After yesterday it was such an emotional high,” Shiffrin said after her race. “I think almost feeling that kind of emotion, it was like I let myself feel too much yesterday. And then, it’s like peaks and valleys — too much of a peak yesterday and too much of a valley today, and when you have two races in a row, it’s really important to keep that mental energy stable, and I didn’t really do that.”
At that point, Shiffrin was in second place; she then stood near the finish to learn if she would be pushed off the podium. She watched as the silver and then bronze medals slipped from her grasp, first with Hansdotter’s blazing and consistent speed, and then with Holdener’s second-place time of 49.79.
With the setback, Shiffrin remains tied with two other Americans who have won two gold medals in Alpine skiing.
Shiffrin completed her first run in 49.37 – putting her nearly half a second behind Holdener, at 48.89. By the time the first 10 skiers had made their way down the course, Shiffrin had fallen to fourth place.
“It was OK, a bit conservative,” she said of her first run. “I know I have a lot more speed in me.” She had predicted that on the second run, “[I’ll] just let it go down the hill more in the second run, it will be quite a lot faster.”
Shiffrin acknowledged, “I am not super psyched with it.”
When asked what she would do to adjust in her second run, Shiffrin replied, “Same thing as yesterday, no holding back. There is not much tactics that goes into it. I just put it all down the hill and see what happens.”
The American, 22, also said that she’d thrown up just before starting her first run — telling NBC that it felt more like an illness than nerves.
Standing in the leader’s circle at the bottom of the hill after that first run, Holdener seemed slightly surprised that she would retain the lead after the first run by the defending gold medalist in this event.
The course laid out for the women’s slalom has 61 turning gates, and a vertical drop of around 670 feet.
Shiffrin raced in the slalom one day after winning gold in the giant slalom. Speaking to journalists after her first run, she alluded to the compressed schedule — and the disruption in her nightly routine. Instead of heading to bed around 8 p.m. last night, Shiffrin was standing on a stage in Pyeongchang, receiving her gold medal in the nightly awards ceremony. She got to bed around 10.
It’s a well-known ritual for Shiffrin to nap between her runs, even in a big race. She’ll try to do that now.
Weather conditions have forced multiple delays and postponements in Shiffrin’s race schedule, which was initially crowded with five events. Concerns over the compressed competition slate forced her to scale back her events in South Korea, opting to skip the Super-G race on Saturday. It would have been her third consecutive day of racing for a medal.
The second and final run in the women’s slalom took place at 1:15 p.m. local time on Friday in South Korea – 11:15 p.m. Thursday night in the U.S.
When Shiffrin won the slalom in Sochi, she became the youngest athlete to win an Olympic gold medal in the event, at age 18. With her gold in giant slalom, she is one of six women to have won gold in both events.
The gold in giant slalom tied Shiffrin with Andrea Mead-Lawrence and Ted Ligety for the USA record of winning two gold medals in Alpine skiing.