Add Olympic slalom gold medalist to Mikaela Shiffrin’s impressive collection of accomplishments as an 18-year-old.
Shiffrin, the defending slalom world champion and last season’s World Cup slalom title winner, took a nearly half-second lead into the second run at Rosa Khutor Friday night and then expanded her lead under the lights in the second run to win the final women’s alpine event of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.
Germany’s Maria Hoefl-Riesch was .49 seconds behind Shiffrin after the first run, and Slovenia’s Tina Maze was .67 behind.
In the second run, the seven-time World Cup winner from Eagle-Vail held off Hoefl-Riesch, the 2010 Vancouver Olympic slalom champion and a combined golf medalist at the Sochi Games. Hoefl-Riesch, a three-time Olympic gold medalist, wound up fourth in Friday’s slalom. Maze, the Sochi Games giant slalom and downhill gold medalist, wound up eighth on Friday.
Austrian’s Marlies Schild and Kathrin Zettel claimed silver and bronze. Shiffrin wound up beating Schild, her childhood idol, by .53 seconds with a two-run time of 1 minute, 44.54 seconds. Schild, the 2010 Olympic silver medalist in slalom behind Hoefl-Riesch and a record 35-time slalom winner on the World Cup circuit, had the fastest second-run time of 51.11 seconds on Friday, followed by Zettel at 51.35.
“Today was one of the most special days of my life,” Shiffrin said. “These two [Schild and Zettel] are my greatest idols. I modeled myself after them. To be in this moment with them, to share it with my family and friends, my team and my coaches, and everyone who has been in my past and will be in my future, it’s just very special.”
Shiffrin’s second-run time of 51.92 seconds was sixth fastest on the day, despite a nearly catastrophic mistake and a great save, and it was plenty fast enough for gold after her dominant first-run time. Shiffrin briefly let her ski rocket out in front of her and propel her off line in the middle section of the course, which would have been a costly if not for her quick feet and a great correction.
“When her ski went up I almost died, because that’s what happened last time in Kranjska Gora in her last race and she dumped all of her speed,” Shiffrin’s mother Eilleen said. “She’s a quick learner though. She just was like, ‘Noooo! I’m not going again. Come on. Go! Go!’ So I’m just super proud of her. [Coach] Roland [Pfeifer] and I definitely had a heart attack. I think this is like a World Cup race but the intensity is magnified a thousand times.”
Shiffrin said this is just the beginning of her Olympic career.
“I always dream of the best case scenario and accept it if it doesn’t happen, but I’m really glad that it did today,” Shiffrin said. “I’ve just got to keep going. It’s an amazing feeling to win an Olympic gold. It’s going to be something that I chalk up as one of my favorite experiences for the rest of my life, but my life is not over yet.”
Shiffrin, a Burke Mountain Academy student, became the youngest woman to ever win the Olympic slalom. Shiffrin joins Lindsey Vonn as the second Olympic gold medalist who calls the Vail Valley home. Longtime U.S. Ski Team veteran and four-time Olympian Sarah Schleper, a tech specialist like Shiffrin, turned in a top-10 slalom result at the 2006 Torino Winter Olympics.
At age 17, Vonn, then Kildow, turned in the best result by an American woman at the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, finishing sixth in the combined. But it took Vonn eight more years to get her gold in the downhill as a 25-year-old at the 2010 Vancouver Games. Shiffrin is way ahead of that pace.
American women – Gretchen Fraser (1948 St. Moritz) and Andrea Mead-Lawrence (52 Oslo) — won the first two Olympic slalom races ever contested, but no American woman has even medaled in the event since Barbara Cochran won gold at Sapporo, Japan, in 1972.
The U.S. Ski Team tied its mark for the second best alpine skiing medal haul ever at the Winter Olympics, matching the five medals won at the 1984 Sarajevo Olympics. At those Games, three skiers — Bill Johonson, Phil Mahre and Debbie Armstrong won gold.
Shiffrin joins Ted Ligety, winner of Wednesday’s GS, in collecting gold at the Sochi Games. Bode Miller and Andrew Weibrecht won bronze and silver in super-G, and Julia Mancuso won bronze in the combined. Shiffrin was fifth in Tuesday’s giant slalom at Rosa Khutor, a disappointing albeit respectable result she vowed never to repeat.
Vonn, the 2010 downhill gold medalist and super-G bronze medalist at Vancouver, suffered a knee injury in a crash last year at the World Championships in Schladming, Austria, where Shiffrin won the slalom. That injury eventually knocked Vonn out of the Sochi Games.
No American alpine skier has ever defended their Olympic gold — a feat Vonn was hoping to accomplish in the downhill before her comeback came up short — and Shiffrin will only be 22 at the next Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
“I wish I could have an American flag on my back in every World Cup, because that’s a really cool feeling to hold that and know that you’re representing not only yourself or your family or your team but your entire country,” Shiffrin said. “I owe this to so many people and I’m really glad that I could share it with them.
“Really, it’s not just me up here, it’s the entire U.S. I’ve seen all the tweets and all of the support and all of the critics, the doubters or whoever that don’t want to see me do it or don’t know if I can; every single one of them has pushed me to this point and I owe this to them as well.”
Shiffrin supporters gathered at Route 6 Cafe in Eagle-Vail at 5 a.m. for her first run, “rooting on their hometown Olympian.” 9News out of Denver was slated to cover the event, and backers were again gathering at 6 p.m. Friday to watch the tape-delayed NBC coverage. A free keg of beer will be offered (while it lasts), as well as appetizer specials, cowbells and more.
Ligety has a chance to give the U.S. its sixth alpine-skiing medal of the Sochi Games with a podium result in the men’s slalom on Saturday, the final alpine event of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. Miller already pulled out of the event after tweaking his surgically repaired left knee in the GS that Ligety won.