PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (AP) — Mikaela Shiffrin is, without a doubt, the best women’s slalom skier there is. Has been for years. All of the victories confirm it. Her competitors are aware of it. And, yes, so is she.
“This is going to sound so arrogant,” Shiffrin said Friday, her eyes closed. “I know that I’m the best slalom skier in the world.”
She spoke those words after failing to live up to that billing. After, as she put it, “puking before the first run” because of what she initially thought might be food poisoning or a virus but eventually decided was simply anxiousness. After, she acknowledged, skiing too conservatively to put up a proper defense of her Olympic title and finishing fourth behind gold medalist Frida Hansdotter of Sweden.
“Sometimes,” the 22-year-old American said, “I feel like the only one who can beat myself in slalom is me. And I beat myself … today.”
Hansdotter took advantage, putting together two legs with a combined time of 1 minute, 38.63 seconds for her first Olympic medal. Switzerland’s Wendy Holdener was 0.05 seconds back for the silver, followed by Austria’s Katharina Gallhuber.
“A lot of surprises today,” Holdener said.
Not really in the men’s race across the way at the Jeongseon Alpine Center, where Austria’s Matthias Mayer added a super-G gold to the downhill title he won four years ago. This time, Mayer edged Switzerland’s Beat Feuz and Norway’s Kjetil Jansrud.
The biggest news 30 miles (50 kilometers) away at the Yongpyong Alpine Center, really, was Shiffrin’s showing. She finished in 1:39.03 — 0.08 away from the bronze and less than a half-second from the gold.
That Shiffrin’s poor-for-her performance in slalom came one day after she won the gold medal in the giant slalom, an event at which she is not as good, was not only stunning but also perhaps related.
After attending the medal ceremony Thursday night, Shiffrin said, she didn’t get to bed until around 10 p.m., roughly 1½ hours later than normal during the Pyeongchang Games. More influential than that, she thought, was the inability to properly modulate her emotions after that victory in the opening women’s Alpine event.
“I had too much of a peak yesterday and too much of a valley today. And when you have two races in a row, it’s really important to keep that mental energy stable. And I didn’t really do that,” Shiffrin said. “So today, it was like all of the tools that I have that make me feel equipped to handle whatever pressure I feel, I didn’t have anymore.”
Her whole Olympics are shifting now.
Shiffrin’s mother, Eileen, who also coaches Mikaela, already had said Saturday’s super-G was no longer part of the plan. Now Shiffrin says she might not ski the downhill, either, for what would shape up as a showdown against U.S. teammate Lindsey Vonn, the 2010 gold medalist in that event. Shiffrin did say she definitely will remain part of the field for the combined.
There is pressure galore, from others and from Shiffrin herself.
That is based in large part on her resume: She won the slalom gold at the age of 18 at the 2014 Sochi Olympics; she won three consecutive world championships in that event; she had a five-race winning streak in January; she is on pace for a second overall World Cup title.
“I think it’s more my own expectations and knowing the magnitude of what I’m trying to do,” Shiffrin said. “Less about what everybody else wants to see.”
That might be.
It’s why she says she would vomit before races last season. And it’s what she thinks caused her to get sick Friday.
Now Shiffrin gets a few days to recalibrate. Won’t be easy to forget what happened Friday, though.
“Moving forward? I am terrible at that. Every single, like, loss that I’ve ever had, I remember that feeling so thoroughly, it’s like a piece of my heart breaks off and I can never get it back. And today is no different than that,” she said. “Some day I’ll be able to understand that it’s part of life and I’m just learning.”