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Mikaela Shiffrin overcame both delays and some of the best skiers in the world to claim her first gold medal at the 2018 Winter Olympics, winning the giant slalom. The weather finally cooperated, with sunny, clear skies over the Yongpyong Alpine Center in Pyeongchang.
Norway’s Ragnhild Mowinckel won silver, 0.39 behind Shiffrin’s combined time of 2:20.02.
It was a hard-won medal, on a day where 20 racers crashed out of the course. Shiffrin set herself up for a podium finish by turning in a time of 1:10.82 on her first run of the day, taking second place just 0.2 seconds behind Italy’s Manuela Moelgg. Another Italian racer, Federica Brignone, trailed Shiffrin by 0.09 seconds.
“The conditions are great, the weather is beautiful, and it’s a pleasure to be skiing today,” Shiffrin told reporters after her first run.
“But I also feel like I can go a little bit harder and you know, there’s nothing to hold back for in the second run. The nice thing about the Olympics is, you don’t hold back. And I’m excited to see what I can do.”
Shiffrin gave this rundown of the course, part of which was somewhat obscured by shadows from nearby trees:
“The top is kind of like a false flat. You just, you can push into it so hard it feels like, perfect. And then on the middle, it got a little bit more chattery. There’s some sort of micro-terrain that, especially when it’s a little darker, you can’t see it that well. It seems like it’s been tossing everybody around a little bit more.”
On her first run, Shiffrin had sped through the first half of the course, but she lost a little time on the bottom portion; in her second run, she started slightly slower than some of the other skiers — but she blazed through the rest of the course, turning in a time of 1:09.20 to put her atop the leader board. Only a handful of skiers were faster than Shiffrin in their second runs; none of them had top-five times in their first attempts.
“I don’t know when it was, at some point today after the first run I thought, like, ‘I can really win this’. I just tried to hang on to that feeling and then focus on my skiing a bit,” Shiffrin said, in remarks transcribed by the Olympics’ news service.
Like Shiffrin, Brignone went down the hill in under 1:10.00 on her second run – and Brignone’s combined time kept her in third place for a bronze medal. Her fellow Italian Moelgg lost her No. 1 spot, and a place on the podium, after a slow second run. She finished eighth.
After Shiffrin set the bar, her Olympic race turned into a waiting game, and she settled in at the scoring area at the bottom of the course to see if any other skier could beat her time.
As racers tried to carve tenths of a second out of the course, the number of DNF — did not finish — statistics piled up. They included two women who might have challenged Shiffrin: Austria’s Stephanie Brunner and Switzerland’s Lara Gut. France’s Tessa Worley, another contender, was undone by a slow first run that left her with too much time to recover.
The course in Pyeongchang comprised 49 turning gates and a vertical drop of 400 meters (1,312 feet). The race began at an altitude of 1365 meters (4,478 feet).
At the Sochi Games of 2014, Shiffrin finished in fifth place in the giant slalom. She won gold in the slalom – an event in which she’ll race tomorrow (Friday morning in Korea, and Thursday night in the continental U.S.).