Mikaela Shiffrin captures first Olympic Giant Slalom gold | SummitDaily.com

Mikaela Shiffrin captures first Olympic Giant Slalom gold

Ed Stoner
estoner@swiftcom.com

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — The sun finally came out, and Mikaela Shiffrin was more than ready to kick off her Olympics.

After days of delays due to windy and snowy weather, Shiffrin took gold in the giant slalom Thursday, Feb. 15, winning her second career Olympic medal and — so far — living up to the great expectations for her in the Pyeongchang Games.

"I don't know how to explain it," she said. "It's crazy. There's so much emotion."

Shiffrin, 22, of Eagle-Vail, finished with a time of 2 minutes, 20.02 seconds, 0.39 seconds ahead of Ragnhild Mowinckel, of Norway, at the YongPyong Alpine Centre. Italy's Federica Brignone took bronze.

"Very happy," said her father, Jeff Shiffrin, in the finish area. "It's just so cool that all the effort worked and finally came together."

Flashing green

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The intervals flashed green all the way down, as Shiffrin built up her lead before giving back a bit of time at the end of the race. She still won by a comfortable margin after first-run leader Manuela Moelgg faltered.

"There's moments when I think 'Oh my gosh, what am I going to do?', and there's moments where I feel like, 'No problem.'" Shiffrin said. "I don't know when it was, at some point today after the first run I thought, like, 'I can really win this.' I just tried to hang on to that feeling and then focus on my skiing a bit."

She takes a big step toward a multiple-medal performance at the Pyeongchang Games. She competes again Friday, Feb. 16 (Thursday in Colorado) in the slalom, her best event, and will be the favorite for gold.

"It's the Olympics but I have a lot of events to do still, I have the slalom race tomorrow, so I have to refocus my energy, but to come to the Olympics after some tough races on the World Cup circuit and, you know, to charge like that," Shiffrin said. "I risked it on the second run. It's super-cool."

Alpine skiing has seen three postponements so far in the Olympics — the women's giant slalom and slalom as well as the men's downhill — but the weather cleared up and was sunny and cold Thursday for both the women's GS and the men's downhill.

Asked after her first run if she was happy to be finally skiing, Shiffrin said, "You don't even know."

"Oh my gosh, last night I was like, 'Are we ever going to race?'" she said.

Shiffrin had originally been scheduled to compete in giant slalom first. Then it was supposed to be slalom. Finally, it was GS that began her Olympics.

"I don't see there being any advantage one way or the other," she said. "I've been skiing well in both GS and slalom and I just was thinking, 'OK, I'll be ready when we race.' But the toughest thing is just to mentally tide yourself over until it is time to go, and now we've been race-ready for the past basically five days in a row, and we're finally racing today."

Compressed schedule

The women are now scheduled to compete in three events in three days.

The U.S. Ski Team hasn't yet announced if Shiffrin will compete in the super-G.

"It's too soon to tell," said her coach, Mike Day. "The schedule is obviously really jammed up. It went from an ideal schedule to consider everything to really compressed and not allowing us proper time. We've always managed speed (events) in a way that fatigue was something that we wanted to avoid. Today is day five on snow. Tomorrow will be day six so, at the moment, we need to focus on tomorrow and make good choices moving forward."

It is Shiffrin's expansion to the speed events that has made her the most dominant skier on the World Cup tour.

In Sochi, Russia, four years ago, Shiffrin was a slalom specialist who also competed in the giant slalom, finishing fifth. But in the last four years, she has introduced more speed events into her schedule, finding success across the spectrum of events.

Since Sochi, she has won six World Cups in the giant slalom. She's topped the podium in downhill and alpine combined as well.

Last season she won the overall title, and this season she leads the overall standings by a huge margin.

She's won 10 World Cup races and has five other podiums this season.

In Sochi, she said she wanted to win five gold medals in Pyeongchang. It's uncertain how many events she will enter beyond Friday's slalom.

"I don't feel pressure to medal as a favorite, or I don't feel pressure from anybody, any external pressure," Shiffrin said last week. "For me, the expectations come more for myself which is actually the biggest pressure of all. But I care. I want to medal in multiple disciplines. But I also know I'm going against my competitors I've been racing against them all season long and they all want to medal, too."