Mikaela Shiffrin unable to defend her Olympic slalom gold, finishing fourth
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Of all the races in Mikaela Shiffrin’s quest for multiple gold medals at the Pyeongchang Olympics, this was the surest bet.
A slalom gold — or at least a medal — was supposed to be a given.
She was the defending gold medalist. She had won 21 of her last 27 World Cup slalom races and reached the podium in four others.
But coming off the high of her gold medal performance in the giant slalom Thursday, and battling nerves before the first run, she wasn’t able to muster a medal-winning run at the slalom Friday at YongPyong Alpine Centre.
She finished fourth.
“It’s like peaks and valleys,” she said after the race. “I had too much of a peak yesterday and too much of the 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. Today, it was like all of the tools that I have that make me feel equipped to handle whatever pressure I feel, I didn’t have any more.”
Frida Hansdotter, of Sweden, won gold, Wendy Holdener, of Switzerland, took silver, and Katharina Gallhuber, of Austria, got bronze. Shiffrin finished 0.40 seconds behind Hansdotter and 0.08 seconds off the podium.
“I knew it would be tough — Mikaela has been so strong this season,” Hansdotter said about beating Shiffrin. “I was maybe a little bit surprised. It’s nice for me to beat her for once because she has been beating me so many times.”
Shiffrin said she was throwing up before the first run. After initially telling NBC it felt like a virus, she said after the race that it was probably nerves.
“I beat myself in the wrong way today,” the 22-year-old Eagle-Vail resident said. “And definitely in that first run I did. Rather than just focusing on the good skiing that I know that I can do, I was conservative. I was almost trying to do something special, and I don’t need to do something special. I just need to ski like myself.”
In Thursday’s GS, trailing after the first run, she said she was ready to charge in the second run, and she did, building up her lead on the way to a gold medal.
But on Friday, that fire was missing.
“I don’t really have like an explanation, actually,” she said. “After yesterday it was such an emotional high. … It was like I let myself feel too much yesterday.”
Shiffrin sat in fourth place, 0.48 seconds behind, after the first run.
The last time Shiffrin had trailed by a bigger margin after the first slalom run was in January 2017 in Flachau, Austria, when she was 1.38 seconds off the pace, eventually finishing fifth.
After winning the giant slalom Thursday and attending the medals ceremony, Shiffrin said Friday that she didn’t get to bed until 10 p.m. on Thursday night — her usual routine is to go to bed at 8:30.
“It was certainly not normal preparation,” she said after the first run. “But I also knew that going into these Olympics, it’s not normal races, it’s not normal preparation, so I have to be prepared for anything. I don’t think that in and of itself had a huge impact on my first first run today.”
Shiffrin was trying to win two golds in two days, something that hadn’t been done by an American since Eric Heiden’s 1980 Games, when he won five gold medals.
A gold would have given Shiffrin the most golds of any American ski racer. She, Ted Ligety and Andrea Mead Lawrence all have two golds.
She’ll have another chance in the alpine combined on Feb. 23, and perhaps the downhill on Feb. 21. She said her participation in the downhill will depend on how the training runs go.
Whatever her next race is, she’ll need to move on from the disappointment of Friday’s slalom. She said she’s not very good at that.
“Every single loss that I’ve ever had, I remember that feeling so thoroughly, like a piece of my heart breaks off and I can never get it back,” she said. “Today is no different than that. Some day I’ll be able to understand that it’s part of life but I’m just learning and I’m 22 years old.”
Shiffrin will skip Saturday’s super-G, resting ahead of downhill training, which is set to begin Sunday.
Paul Cuthbertson set out by himself around 3 p.m. Friday from the trailhead that leads up to the Polar Star Inn, according to his father, Mike, but never made it to the popular backcountry hut as a late-spring snowstorm moved in.