A Winter Olympics that began in frustration became downright nightmarish for Mikaela Shiffrin Wednesday after she skied out in her signature event, the women's slalom, just two days after making the same mistake in the giant slalom.
Shiffrin lost the racing line just five gates into the "Ice River" technical course, skiing too far wide to rescue the run. She shouted in frustration, then collapsed to the side of the course and remained seated there for 25 minutes before eventually skiing down the hill.
"I feel really bad. There’s a lot more going on today than just my skiing situation, but I feel really bad for doing that,” Shiffrin said in tearful disbelief shortly afterward. “I think I just slipped… I mean I had every intention to go full gas and there wasn’t really space in the course to slip, not even a little.
“In my experience that mentality has brought my best skiing and today I went out on the fifth gate,” she said.
Such a result would bring shock and disappointment under any context for the woman who has won more World Cup slalom races than any skier ever. But just over 48 hours prior, Shiffrin found herself eliminated after 11 seconds in the giant slalom, the event in which she was the defending gold medalist. It had been 30 starts and nearly four years since she had failed to finish a GS race. If one DNF was improbable, two in back-to-back races was, prior to Wednesday, unthinkable.
“It makes me second guess the last 15 years, everything I thought I knew about my own skiing and slalom and racing mentality.,” Shiffrin said while still processing the raw emotions.
These Winter Games, the third of her stellar career, are the first spent without her father, Jeff, who suffered a fatal accident in 2020. Shiffrin has said that she was unsure at the time if she would ever compete in ski racing again.
Shiffrin’s top slalom rival on the World Cup tour, 2021-22 champion Petra Vlhova of Slovakia, also struggled on the slick manmade snow, finishing the first run 0.71 off the pace set by Germany’s Lena Duerr. However, Vlhova skied flawlessly in the second run to leapfrog seven other contenders and become the Olympic champion. Paula Moltzan was the top American with an eighth-place finish.
Shiffrin could compete in as many as three more events at the 2022 Winter Games and is still among the favorites for the podium in the combined event, in which she is the defending silver medalist. The speed disciplines of super-G and downhill are not considered her strengths.