Mikaela Shiffrin skis out of slalom in Olympic Alpine combined event
Gisin and Holdener go 1-2 for Swiss as Brignone earns bronze for Italy
VAIL — The door was wide open for Mikaela Shiffrin, but she couldn’t walk through.
In the Olympic Alpine event which requires athletes to showcase their range of abilities as both speed and technical skiers Mikaela Shiffrin was perfectly positioned to finally earn a medal at the 2022 Olympics in the Alpine combined. After a humbling start to the Beijing Games that included disqualifications in her two strongest events — the slalom and giant slalom — the World Cup overall leader sat in fifth after the downhill portion of the two-event competition which combines a downhill and a slalom run to form a total time. With only speed skiers in front of her, Shiffrin had a golden opportunity for a medal, but skied out of the slalom course at the tenth gate.
Swiss skiers Michelle Gisin and Wendy Holdener won gold and silver, respectively, with the Italian Federica Brignone earning the bronze.
A generally mistake-free downhill put Shiffrin just 0.56 seconds behind the Austrian leader Christine Scheyer after the first event. The just four primarily speed skiers in front of the 26-year-old, the 47-time World Cup winner in the slalom had good reason to be licking her chops. Yet, based on quotes coming between the two runs, that wasn’t exactly the case.
“It’s nice to know I have some practice and certainly a lot of speed in slalom,” Shiffrin said to the New York Times after the downhill.
“But I also have a little bit of, I don’t know, I have to overcome the image that I am going to ski out on the fifth gate. I am just trying to stay calm because I think I was doing pretty well with that this morning. Stay calm and have a good run at slalom.”
In 2018, when the American took the silver medal in the combined event, a discipline she also won at the most recent World Championships in 2021, she was in sixth after the downhill. The improved mark may have come from on behalf of an equpment change.
According to NBC reports, Shiffrin road down the Rock course Thursday on skis belonging to Sofia Goggia, the Italian downhill gold (2018) and silver medalist (2022). Goggia, who knows a little something about overcoming calamity and rising to the occasion on the piste — she suffered a viscous fall in late January and narrowly recovered in time for her inspiring silver medal downhill performance a few days ago — left a note for the American on the skis: “FLY MIKA, YOU CAN.”
Shiffrin rode an aggressive line at the top of the Rock course, clipping a few gates but remaining low and aerodynamic. She stayed smooth throughout the icy course, even gaining a few tenths back at the bottom of the 2,704 meter long track. Her teammate Keely Cashman, who took to the course immediately prior to Shiffrin, sat in seventh place.
“I was just trying to stay calm and not think about the course too much and not try to make too much of a strategy, but just ski it and find my tuck whenever I could,” Shiffrin told the New York Times after the downhill. In 2018, she had 1.21 seconds to make up on eventual winner Michelle Gisin.
The Swiss skier returned Thursday to defend her Olympic title from PyeongChang. Only Croatia’s Janica Kostelic (2002, 2006) and Germany’s Maria Hofl-Riesch (2010, 2014) had ever defended the Olympic gold in the event before Gisin replicated the accomplishment.
After the downhill, Gisin sat in 12th place. The bronze medalist from four years ago, teammate Wendy Holdener — perhaps Shiffrin’s biggest competition on paper going into the slalom — lurked in 11th. Holdener also won the discipline’s globe in 2016 and 2018. The leader, Scheyer, entered the competition without a single Olympic or World Championship medal and has only one World Cup win, a downhill victory from 2017.
The Austrian went first down the icy slalom hill, setting the standard at 56.83. Ester Ledecka, sitting in second, found 0.94 seconds on Scheyer, posting the new best at 55.89. Ledecka, who famously won both Alpine ski super-G and parallel giant slalom snowboard golds in 2018, made a mistake on the second gate in the downhill but still posted the second-fastest time of the day and began the slalom just 0.01 seconds behind Scheyer. In the end, she wound up in the undesirable fourth position.
Austria’s Ramona Siebenhofer, primarily a downhill skier, didn’t have much to give in the slalom and went into third place after her run. France’s Romane Miradoli, starting fourth, straddled a gate to end her day, bringing up the American with a golden — literally — opportunity.
Unfortunately, Shiffrin’s Beijing woes continued. Despite finding her rhythm through the first nine gates, she dropped low late on the tenth, throwing herself out of position and skidding to a stop on the icy, steep slope. Five of the first 10 skiers posted a DNF, including fellow Americans Keely Cashman and Isabella Wright. Tricia Mangan was the only of the red, white and blue to get to the bottom of the hill, finishing in 11th.
Federica Brignone, a two-time combined globe winner (2019, 2020) and another one of the pre-race contenders, struggled to find her speed and sat in eighth, 0.69 seconds out of first after the downhill, but blitzed the slalom course to take an early lead and eventually earn bronze.
Switzerland was hoping to become the first nation since 1988 to podium in every Alpine event. Holdener put a full 1.10 seconds on Brignone’s time to take a 0.80 second lead, though ultimately displayed disappointment over her silver. Right after her, Gisin blew the door open, gunning down the hill in just 52.25 seconds, over a second faster than her teammate, more than two seconds faster than Brignone, and over three seconds faster than Ledecka’s fourth-best mark. The remarkable performance gave her an untouchable 1.06 second lead on the field.
Notably absent from the start list was the Slovakian superstar Petra Vlhova, who’s ankle tendon injury forced her to sit out.