It’s a family matter: Gisin wins gold in combi; Shiffrin second
Gold medals apparently run in the family.
Switzerland’s Dominique Gisin won the 2014 Olympic downhill in Sochi, Russia, and younger sister, Michelle Gisin, joined the club on Thursday, Feb. 22, in Pyeongchang, South Korea, winning the women’s combined, holding off Mikaela Shiffrin, who took silver, by 0.97 seconds and bronze-medalist Wendy Holdener, of Switzerland, who was 1.44 seconds back.
Lindsey Vonn, who won the morning downhill and had a chance for a Cinderella ending to her Olympic career, took a 0.77-second lead to the slalom, but skied out midway through the course for a DNF.
First time on top
Given the unpredictable nature of the combined, it’s not a surprise that Gisin has never topped a World Cup podium during her career. She finished second in the Val d’Isere, France, combined back in December 2016 and was second on in St. Moritz, Switzerland, during a super-G last December.
While Gisin comes more from the speed side of things, she entered the Olympics ranked No. 16 in World Cup slalom, a marked improvement from previous seasons.
Gisin is also the first Swiss female ski racer to win the combined at the Olympics, and Switzerland is steeped in skiing history. The venerable Vreni Schneider was the last Swiss women’s racer to medal — silver in 1994 in Lillehammer, Norway, — in the combined.
Another medal for Mikaela
The slalom didn’t work in the actual slalom last week — she was shut out of the medals, finishing fourth — for Mikaela Shiffrin, but it sure worked in the combined.
Shiffrin flew to sixth during the downhill, 1.98 seconds behind teammate Vonn, but realistically 1.24 ticks behind Norway’s Ragnhild Mowinckel, who was second in the downhill and ended up finishing fourth.
Shiffrin had a win in her sites as she went down the slalom course. Though NBC showed her in red numbers — theoretically behind — she was in green all the way. NBC commentators Dan Hicks and Bode Miller both said her midway red interval was a computer error.
In theory, Shiffrin had the best slalom pedigree entering the afternoon run, but Gisin overtook her. While these Olympics were much hyped with the prospect of Shiffrin winning multiple gold medals, it’s worth noting that only one American woman, Andrea Mead Lawrence, back in 1952, has won two gold medals in one Olympics.
Shiffrin leaves with a gold from the giant slalom and silver in the combined to add to her 2014 slalom gold.
At the ripe old age of 22, Shiffrin is only surpassed by Julia Mancuso (four) and Bode Miller (six) in career Olympic medals in American ski racing history.
Not a surprise
Switzerland’s Holdener was no surprise in a batch of surprises running late at the Olympic combined. The 2017 FIS Alpine World Ski Champion in the discipline, she won the only combined this season contested on the World Cup circuit held on home snow in Lenzerheide on Jan. 26.
Two of her three career wins are in the combined. She surged from 10th in the downhill, 2.74 seconds behind Vonn, to earn bronze. That medal will doubtless go nicely with her silver in the slalom last week.
If this was Vonn’s Olympic finale, well, it was almost one for the ages.
Of course, she won the downhill portion of the Olympic combined.
She’s rather an accomplished racer in speed.
But she had barely trained slalom all season. Her last World Cup slalom start came on Jan. 27, 2013, when she didn’t make the flip and was only a week or so away from her disastrous right-knee injury at the 2013 Worlds in Schaldming, Austria.
As much as it would have been a storybook ending, it was not to be.
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934, email@example.com and @cfreud.