YANQING, China — Mikaela Shiffrin is the greatest slalom skier in the history of her sport, and on Thursday afternoon, all she needed was one clean run. One run to reverse the heartbreak of last week and leave Beijing golden.
She’d sped into fifth place after the downhill leg of Thursday’s combined, ahead of all other slalom specialists in the field. She needed, simply, to complete a race she’d won more often than any woman, ever, including at the Olympics as a teen.
She needed to do the thing she’d spent a majority of her life preparing to do,
“It was,” she said, “not actually that much to ask for.”
And for the second consecutive week, she couldn’t.
Shiffrin, who entered the 2022 Olympics with dreams of multiple medals, failed to finish the slalom leg of Thursday’s combined, her last individual event. Her ski caught a gate, which sent her tumbling to the snow, for the third time in three technical runs at these Games.
And this came after she’d already done the hard part. Her 1:32.98 in the downhill put her ahead of her fellow slalomers by 0.13 (Federica Brignone), 0.43 (Wendy Holdener) and 0.44 (Michelle Gisin). The four women ahead of her — led by Christine Scheyer, with a 0.56-second edge — had little to no slalom experience.
But ever since skiing out of the giant slalom and slalom last week, Shiffrin had had recurring nightmares about another fifth-gate failure. “In theory, it’s a good place to be,” she said between Thursday’s runs. But “I’m not feeling totally confident with the slalom.”
And a version of those nightmares became reality. She made it past the fifth gate. But not far. She spun toward the side of the course. Her shoulders sunk.
A day earlier, she’d felt calm. Tired, but prepared. Training “felt really nice,” she said. On Thursday, in between runs, her slalom warmups “felt good.” Her start was “fine.”
“And then,” she said, “I was off the course again.”
Shiffrin arrived in Yanqing with dreams of multiple golds. She has none, and now has only one more shot to medal, in the mixed team parallel event on Saturday. She’ll compete alongside Paula Moltzan, River Radamus and Tommy Ford. The US is not favored for gold, but could contend for a spot on the podium.
To Shiffrin, though, disappointment goes beyond medals. “The most disappointing thing,” she said, “is that I had multiple opportunities to ski slalom on this track. And I — well, you know — failed in all of them.”