Mikaela Shiffrin’s historic Olympic medal chase starts with giant slalom

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Mikaela Shiffrin’s quest for more Olympic medals, and possibly U.S. history, will begin on defense.

The dominant American slalom skier, who will attempt to compete in all five alpine skiing events at the Beijing Winter Olympics, will get started on Monday (Sunday night state-side) when she tries to defend her gold medal in the giant slalom.

Shiffrin, 26, who won gold in the giant slalom four years ago in Pyeongchang, South Korea, knows she has a challenging course and gusty winds to face this time around, in addition to rival Petra Vlhova of Slovakia.

“There’s going to be a huge element of just crossing your fingers in these Games,” Shiffrin told reporters after testing out the slopes in Yanqing on Friday, per Reuters. “It’s some of the steepest terrain I’ve ever experienced in my life.

“Ideally nobody is going to face one of the really big gusts when you nearly get blown off the mountain. Skiing speed when you’re getting air off terrain … that becomes not only challenging but also very dangerous.”

Mikaela Shiffrin
Mikaela Shiffrin
AP

The giant slalom, which will feature two runs (the first set beginning at 9:15 p.m. EST on Sunday) is the first event on Shiffrin’s busy schedule at these Olympics. She is also expected to race in the slalom on Wednesday, the Super G on Friday, the downhill on Feb. 15 and the combined on Feb. 17. Shiffrin planned to race in all five events in 2018 before wind-related postponements compacted the schedule and limited her to three events.


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In addition to winning gold in the giant slalom in Pyeongchang, Shiffrin also won silver in the 2018 combined and gold in the 2014 slalom in Sochi, Russia. She is a favorite to bring home more medals from Beijing — and just one more gold would give her the most of any American Olympic alpine skier. Shiffrin’s two golds are currently tied with Ted Ligety and Andrea Mead Lawrence.

“There’s going to be some level of disappointment if I walk away with no medal, but I don’t think it’s possible to walk away without some level of disappointment about something,” Shiffrin said. “It’s impossible to have a perfect two weeks.”

Mikaela Shiffrin
Mikaela Shiffrin
AP

Since Shiffrin last skied in the Olympics, she has dealt with heartbreak off the slope. Her father, Jeff, died in February 2020 from injuries sustained in an accident. Shiffrin took a break from skiing after her father’s death and then missed events due to the pandemic and a back injury, but eventually returned to racing that November, when she placed second to Vlhova in a world cup slalom event.

Now, days removed from the two-year anniversary of her father’s death, Shiffrin will begin her first Olympic journey without him.

“But, I mean, I like being here,” Shiffrin said, according to Yahoo Sports. “To be honest, I actually do feel good.”

Shiffrin will hope to replicate her performance from the 2021 World Championships, when she came home with four medals — a gold in the combined, a silver in the giant slalom and bronze in both the slalom and the Super G.

In order to make that happen, she will have to avoid the nagging back injury that has caused her some trouble of late — in addition to battling the conditions in Yanqing.
“If you want to get a medal here, you have to ski well because the surface is legit, the hills are not easy. It’s going to require skiing that’s really on point,” Shiffrin said. “Success is getting here and getting through it.”

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