Mikaela Shiffrin wins silver in Alpine combined to end 2018 Olympics
BUKPYEONG, South Korea - In so many ways, the final day of Mikaela Shiffrin’s Olympics came to embody all the days and all the emotions that preceded it. Frustration sharing a stage with joy. Beauty marred by tiny blemishes. Results that didn’t necessarily match the goals but are certainly nothing to be ashamed of.
Shiffrin showed no outward signs of disappointment Thursday afternoon. She had come to Pyeongchang with the hopes of winning multiple medals, and she did. A gold in the giant slalom and now a silver in the combined event means Shiffrin has three Olympic medals in her career, more than anyone not named Bode Miller, Julia Mancuso or Lindsey Vonn - all royalty in the U.S. Alpine world. And Shiffrin is all of 22 years old.
“To come away from this Olympics with two medals is insane,” Shiffrin said.
Performances to build on
A gold and a silver - paired with a fourth-place finish in her best event - were not exactly what she’d spent the past four years dreaming about. She had discussed openly the possibility of winning three or four - or who knows, maybe five? - medals in Pyeongchang, and as she grew faster and faster in every single discipline, no one was eager to rule her out.
“For sure, the expectations were high. But when I came here, I was thinking more about my own expectations,” she said.
The gap between what was possible and what was probable might as well have been the distance from the top of the mountain to the bottom. Sure, Shiffrin had shown great promise in multiple disciplines this year, but coming to Pyeongchang, she somehow needed to find that magic and deploy it on a nearly daily basis here.
Instead, these Olympics featured just flashes of her brilliance - brilliant, bright flashes - enough for two impressive events, but not the stack of medals she might have envisioned.
On Thursday, she put up the sixth-best time in downhill but was still 1.98 seconds behind the run’s best time, which was posted by Vonn. Shiffrin bobbled early in the run, which kept her from switching to a higher gear and really attacking the course.
Two seconds was a big gap, but the second leg of the combined is the slalom, and no one in the world has been better since Shiffrin was a teenager. But this slalom was no sure thing, not after she’d posted that disappointing fourth-place finish in the event last week.
Later in the afternoon, Shiffrin stood at the starting line, knowing a second gold was within reach. Still, she managed only the event’s third-best slalom time and was quickly overtaken by Switzerland’s Michelle Gisin, who bested Shiffrin’s total time by nearly a full second, 2:20.90 to 2:21.87.
Vonn was the event’s final racer, but she hit a gate just one-quarter of the way down the course and skied out, ending her spectacular career.
Shiffrin seemed pleased with her Olympics and relieved that they’re now finally over. She said these Winter Games and the long lead-up were like a “mental roller coaster.”
Nowhere was that mental fatigue more evident than in the Olympic slalom. Despite all the uncertainty, she managed to get her Olympics off to the perfect start, gaining some momentum by winning the giant slalom. But the next day her nerves rattled like wind chimes in a hurricane, and she vomited moments before making her first run, missing the podium.
Everyone in the Alpine world knows how ambitious Shiffrin’s goals had been here.
“It’s incredible what she’s able to accomplish,” Vonn said. “She’s so young and she approaches ski racing much different than pretty much anyone else. I think she had potential to do a lot more at these Games, but at the same time - same like me - you can’t expect everything all the time.”
Eyes toward the future
Shiffrin will resume her World Cup season, where she’s a big favorite for the both her second straight overall title and fourth consecutive slalom title. And she’ll likely keep getting more comfortable in the speed disciplines. She’d grown so much in them in these past four years, and there’s no telling what the next Olympic cycle might hold.
“Just knowing that I can put fast times down in pretty much any event, that is really huge for me,” she said. “In Sochi, I felt like, ‘Ah, I’m just like a little slalom skier.’ … At that point, yeah, I talked about winning five golds, and it was more just the idea of improving my skiing enough in all events that I could contend for multiple medals. So to be in this position now is incredibly sweet. Moving forward, I know what to do to get better.”