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Mikaela Shiffrin of Edwards, the 2018 giant slalom Olympic gold medalist, got late on her line, lost her edge trying to recover on the super-firm, manmade snow of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic GS course, went down on her side and slid off course early in her first run for a shocking DNF on Monday.
Now Shiffrin on Wednesday will have to focus on her signature event of slalom, in which she captured the 2014 Olympic gold medal, in order to try to pick up an American alpine skiing record third gold medal.
Shiffrin also hopes to compete in four other events at the Beijing Games, including the combined, in which she earned a sliver medal at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.
Sweden’s Sara Hector, the current World Cup leader in GS, was leading after one run when Shiffrin went out at the top of the course after just 11 seconds. The slalom and GS combine the times of two separate runs, and only the top 30 racers earn a second run.
“Could blame it on a lot of things … and we’ll analyze it until the cows come home, but not today,” Shiffrin posted on social media. “Today I chalk it up to really awful timing of a really frustrating mistake. Moving focus to slalom now, AND cheering for my teammates in the second run of the GS and the DH!”
Shiffrin’s boyfriend, Aleksander Aamodt Kilde of Norway — a medal favorite heading into Beijing — appeared poised for a disappointing fifth in the men’s downhill Monday. Beat Feuz of Switzerland looked to be in control for the downhill gold as the race was winding down late Sunday in Colorado. No American was in the top 10.
Editor’s note: Hector wound up winning the gold medal in GS, followed by Federica Brignone of Italy with the silver and Lara Gut-Behrami of Switzerland with the bronze. American Nina O’Brien was sixth after the first run but was disqualified after crashing near the end of the second run, meaning Paula Moltzan was the top American in 12th. Sarah Schleper of Vail, skiing for Mexico, was 37th. There were 29 DNF’s and two DQ’s.
Editor’s note 2: Feuz wound up winning the men’s downhill gold, followed by Johan Clarey of France with the silver and Matthias Mayer of Austria with the bronze. Kilde finished fifth, and the top American was Ryan Cochran-Siegle in 14th.
Editor’s note 3: Shiffrin on Monday tweeted her support for O’Brien: “We are so heartbroken for Nina… she showed so much heart and fire in her skiing today, and it all got shredded to pieces on the final turn. This sport… this sport is SO damn hard. It’s brutal, and it hurts- far more often than it ever feels good.”
Here’s the press release on Monday’s race from the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team:
In her Olympic debut, Paula Moltzan posted the top finish for the U.S. women in Monday’s giant slalom, tying with Norway’s Maria Therese Tviberg in 12th. Moltzan, known for her prowess in the slalom, had minimal expectations for herself coming into Sunday’s giant slalom. She just hoped to ski well. A quick bauble and an acrobatic save kept her in the fold and earned her the top finish for Team USA.
“I’m happy to be a little bit flexible,” she laughed.
Mikaela Shiffrin, who walked into the day’s race carrying the weight of gold-medal expectations on her shoulders, did not finish her first run, skiing out around the fifth gate.
The mistake was uncharacteristic of Shiffrin. When asked if she ever skis out in giant slalom, her response was “rarely.” She knows questions will be asked, questions like “what went wrong.” The meticulous skier spends so much time in training learning how to limit her risk of crashing that doing so in the Olympics is a shock to many. But Shiffrin knows she was pushing the first four turns. She knows where her mentality was at. Despite what she called a ‘huge disappointment,’ Shiffrin is already on to the next one.
“We point blame at a lot of places in the season, but I think the easiest thing to say is that I skied a couple good turns and I skied one turn a bit wrong, and I paid the hardest consequence for that. Now we have to move forward because there’s a lot still to come the next week.”
The defending giant slalom Olympic gold medalist was not the only top skier who struggled right out of the gate. Italy’s Marta Bassino of Italy made a similar mistake on the same gate and skied out of the course. New Zealand’s Alice Robinson also lost her cool on the top section of the first run.
In the finish tent, Shiffrin stepped aside to take a moment to herself before facing the questions she knew were coming. In the same moment, Robinson sat crying and was being consoled by her physio. Shiffrin took notice and shared some words of wisdom.
“Stop crying,” she said. “You can’t afford to lose that emotional energy right now. You got more shots. Figure out what you can figure out, and then you just have to let the rest go.”
“It’s just hard,” responded Alice.
“Oh yeah, I know – that fourth and a half gate is a real b*tch.”
Nina O’Brien made it through that fourth gate in both runs. Coming into her second, O’Brien was sitting sixth overall, on the edge of what could be a career-best result for her in the giant slalom. She pushed the limits and hauled through each turn, bobbling, then recovering, and continuing to carry speed despite her mistakes. Then, at the last gate, O’Brien caught an edge and crashed unexpectedly in a chaotic tangle of limbs and skis. She remained alert and responsive as medical staff rushed into the finish to tend to her, only concerned about holding up the race and how fast she was skiing. O’Brien has been transported with Team USA’s medical staff for further evaluation. At the moment, there are no updates as to the extent of her injuries.
“I mean, we’re at the Olympics,” Moltzan commented when asked why she thinks so many athletes struggled on Sunday. “I think everyone is just trying to get their best skiing out there, and people are pushing to the limit, and when that happens, there’s a breaking point.”
The race went on to see Sweden’s Sara Hector at the top of the podium, winning her first-ever Olympic gold. Italy’s Federica Brignone took silver and Switzerland’s Lara Gut-Behrami bronze. Fellow American AJ Hurt did not finish her first run.
Women’s giant slalom
HOW TO WATCH
*All times EST
Monday, Feb. 7, 2022
8:00 p.m. Primetime Freestyle Skiing Women’s Big Air, Alpine Skiing Men’s Super G, NBC Broadcast
10:00 p.m. Alpine Skiing – Men’s Super G, National Alpine Skiing Center, Yanqing District, Beijing, CHN, NBCOlympics.com, Streaming Peacock
Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2022
2:00 a.m. West Coast Encore – Women’s Big Air Final, Men’s super G & more, NBC Broadcast
8:00 p.m. Primetime Broadcast – Snowboarding Women’s Halfpipe, Alpine Women’s Slalom, Freestyle Mewn’s Big Air, NBC Broadcast
9:15 p.m. Alpine Skiing – Women’s Slalom Run 1, National Alpine Skiing Center, Yanqing District, Beijing, CHN, NBCOlympics.com, Streaming Peacock
Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2022
12:45 a.m. Alpine – Alpine Skiing – Women’s Slalom Run 2, National Alpine Skiing Center, Yanqing District, Beijing, CHN, NBCOlympics.com, Streaming Peacock
2:00 a.m. Primetime – Snowboarding Women’s Halfpipe Qualifying, Alpine Skiing Women’s Slalom, Freestyle Men’s Big Air (re-air), NBC Broadcast
5:00 a.m. Primetime – Snowboarding Women’s Halfpipe Qualifying, Alpine Skiing Women’s Slalom, Freestyle Men’s Big Air (re-air), NBC Broadcast
2:00 p.m. Daytime – Alpine Skiing Women’s Slalom, Nordic Combined Men’s Normal Hill & 10km, Snowboarding Women’s Snowboardcross Final, NBC Broadcast
9:30 p.m. Alpine Skiing – Men’s Combined Downhill, National Alpine Skiing Center, Yanqing District, Beijing, CHN, NBCOlympics.com, Streaming Peacock
Thursday, Feb. 10, 2022
1:05 a.m. Primetime Plus – Alpine Skiing – Men’s Alpine Combined Slalom, NBC Broadcast
1:15 a.m. Alpine Skiing, Men’s Combined Slalom, National Alpine Skiing Center, Yanqing District, Beijing, CHN, NBCOlympics.com, Streaming Peacock
8:00 p.m. Primetime – Alpine Skiing Women’s Super G (Live), Snowboarding Men’s Halfpipe Final (Live), Freestyle Mixed Team Aerials Final, NBC Broadcast
10:00 p.m. Alpine Skiing – Women’s Super G, National Alpine Skiing Center, Yanqing District, Beijing, CHN, Streaming Peacock, NBCOlympics.com