The winds finally stopped blowing and EagleVail’s Mikaela Shiffrin blew away the field in giant slalom for her first gold medal of the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics Thursday (Wednesday night in the U.S.), becoming only the second American woman to win two career gold medals in alpine skiing.
Shiffrin’s two-run time of two minutes, 20.02 seconds at the Yongpyong Alpine Centre was .39 seconds faster than silver medalist Ragnhild Mowinckel of Norway. First-run leader Manuela Moelgg of Italy, skiing last, finished off the podium and out of the medals. Italy’s Federica Brignone ended a long Italian drought in women’s alpine, claiming the bronze.
Starting next to last on the second run, Shiffrin skied into the top spot by nearly four-tenths of a second and at one point led by nearly a full second until a bobble at the bottom cost her some time.
“I was really taking risks and fighting for it and I’m so happy for that,” Shiffrin told NBC. “It’s been a work in progress every season in GS. I’ve always just come up a little short. To come here and do that today was incredible. Of course, I have the slalom tomorrow [Thursday night in the U.S., Friday in South Korea], so I’m trying to get my emotions in control and focus on that.”
Shiffrin was fifth in the GS at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics but has improved significantly in the discipline since then, winning twice in GS on the World Cup circuit this season and three times last season when she claimed the overall World Cup title.
Going into the Sochi Games, Shiffrin had never won in GS, but after those Olympics — in which she became the youngest slalom champion ever at age 18 — she vowed never to finish fifth and out of the medals again in GS.
Shiffrin sat in second and was just two-tenths of a second behind first-run leader Moelgg after the first run. Moelgg started first in the morning and turned in the top first-run time of 1:10.62. Skiing somewhat conservatively on the lower part of the course, Shiffrin was right behind Moelgg with a first-run time of 1:10.82.
Shiffrin, 22, joins Park City’s Ted Ligety and Andrea Mead-Lawrence as the only American alpine ski racers to claim two career gold medals. Shiffrin can claim her third by defending her slalom championship from Sochi on Friday.
Vail’s Sarah Schleper, 38, finished in the top 40 in the first run of Thursday’s GS, coming in 39th with a time of 1:16.80. Racing for Mexico, the five-time Olympian missed the top 30 and the chance at a second run, but the dual-citizen by virtue of marrying a Mexican resident of Vail wasn’t far off the other top Americans.
Schleper was right behind U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team member Resi Stiegler, who finished out of the top 30 in 38th. U.S. skier Megan McJames wound up 35th. No other Americans cracked the top 30.