Olympics: Mikaela Shiffrin avoids catastrophe, wins slalom gold
Alpine skiing • 18-year-old American becomes youngest-ever women’s Olympic slalom champ.
Published: February 21, 2014 12:38PM
Updated: February 21, 2014 09:13PM
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KRASNAYA POLYANA, RUSSIA - JANUARY 21: Mikaela Shiffrin, of Eagle-Vail, Colo., competes in run 1 of the women's slalom competition at Rosa Khutor Alpine Center during the 2014 Sochi Olympics Friday February 21, 2014. Shiffrin is currently winning with a time of 52.62. (Photo by Chris Detrick/The Salt Lake Tribune)

Krasnaya Polyana, Russia • For a moment, Mikaela Shiffrin thought she’d lost it all.

Shiffrin enjoyed such a big lead that all she really needed to do was stay upright Friday night in the second run of the Olympic slalom event.

And ski around each gate, of course. That task proved more challenging than Shiffrin would have preferred, but she saved herself with an athletic recovery in the middle of the hill and earned a gold medal at the Rosa Khutor Alpine Center.

“Pretty terrifying experience, actually,” Shiffrin said, but that episode just added to the lore of her first Olympic triumph, with presumably more to come.

Shiffrin, who will turn 19 next month, dominated the first run and became the first U.S. women’s medalist in slalom since 1972. Her gold medal eased the Alpine team’s loss of Lindsey Vonn, sidelined by a knee injury, and further established Shiffrin as a rising star who likely will add more speed events to her workload in the years to come.

As for the natural subject, “I don’t want to be the next Lindsey Vonn,” she said. “I want to be Mikaela Shiffrin.”

With a two-run time of 1:44.54, she finished 0.53 seconds ahead of Austria’s Marlies Schild. Shiffrin is the youngest Olympic slalom champion of either gender; Schild is the oldest medalist at 32.

Shiffrin defeated a couple of other Olympic stars in the process. Slovenia’s Tina Maze was trying to win her third gold medal in these Games but faded to eighth. Germany’s Maria Hoefl-Riesch was seeking her fourth career gold and stood second after the first run before finishing fourth.

As was the case with Park City’s Ted Ligety in the giant slalom Wednesday, Shiffrin knew the slalom was her race. The skier from Vail, Colo., had finished fifth in Tuesday’s GS and promised, “Next Olympics I go to, I’m sure as heck not getting fifth.”

Her move to the top of the podium came three days later. Shriffin was 0.49 seconds ahead of Hoefl-Riesch following the late-afternoon first run, then had plenty of cushion when she returned to the start gate under the lights about four hours later. But there still was that little matter of completing the course.

What she labeled “a huge mistake” left her thinking she might ski off the course and briefly made her angry with herself. But she was very happy with the recovery, unlike her response once in a World Cup race “where I just totally blew it,” she said.

Shiffrin’s performance concluded the U.S. women’s Alpine team’s effort in the Games with two medals, following a bronze for Julia Mancuso in the super combined event. The men’s squad claims three medals, with the slalom to come Saturday. The Alpine teams totaled eight medals in 2010, with Vonn claiming two.

Julia Ford of Pack City placed 24th in the slalom. Resi Stiegler, formerly of Park City, was 20th after the first run but failed to finish the second run.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.comTwitter: @tribkurt