APTOPIX Beijing Olympics Alpine Skiing

Mikaela Shiffrin crashes out during the women’s combined slalom Thursday at the Winter Olympics. Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press

BEIJING — There was simply no way to predict this. Not for anyone, including Mikaela Shiffrin herself.

That the American skier would go 0 for 5 in individual races at the Beijing Olympics, leaving without a medal from any and with a best showing of ninth place, was hard enough to imagine beforehand.

That she would not even manage to finish three of those events – the three that are her best, including Thursday’s combined – was among the most surprising developments of the entire 2022 Games.

“I’m certainly questioning a lot,” Shiffrin said. “I’m really disappointed. And I’m really frustrated.”

She arrived in China as one of the biggest stars of ski racing – or any sport. Owner of three Olympic medals, two golds and a silver. Six world championship golds. Three overall World Cup titles.

Still, the 26-year-old from Colorado just never displayed her enviable technique and talent or big-moment gumption at the National Alpine Skiing Center in the brown, craggy mountains about 55 miles northwest of central Beijing.

Advertisement

“This is incredibly difficult for her as a person,” U.S. Alpine Coach Paul Kristofic said. “We had big expectations coming here, and it hasn’t gone the way we hoped, of course.”

Shiffrin spoke openly and at length in the months leading up to these races about those enormous expectations – from herself, from fans, from coaches, even close friends and family. She also was frank about the lingering heartache from the accidental death of her father two years ago.

On Thursday, she acknowledged maybe she was pushing too hard and not leaving herself enough margin for error in the tick-tock-tick-tock, left-right rhythm of a slalom, but otherwise was not sure of any common denominator for the miscues.

“The pressure’s there. It’s always there. And I don’t feel uncomfortable or even unfamiliar with it,” she said, not far from where Switzerland’s Michelle Gisin received her second consecutive combined gold medal. “Some days I’m a little bit more tight and it’s still possible to ski well. And some days I’m a little looser and it’s still possible to ski well.”

Gisin beat teammate Wendy Holdener by 1.05 seconds in the two-run race to help Switzerland make it a record five gold medals in Alpine skiing at a single Olympics.

Federica Brignone of Italy was third, 1.85 seconds behind Gisin.

Advertisement

Shiffrin’s latest subpar performance came in the second leg of the combined, which adds the times from one downhill run and one slalom run.

She was fifth-fastest in the downhill, certainly in contention for gold. What she needed to do, and could not, was stay upright for 50 seconds or so – long enough get to the bottom of the slope as a light snow descended.

Trouble came after about 10 gates and 10 seconds. She lost her balance, could not regain it, and ended up landing on her hip.

Shiffrin sat for a few moments in the snow. When she rose, she shook her head, then looked up at the hill, as though trying to figure out exactly where things went wrong.

Later, course reports – sent to Americans who raced after Shiffrin – warned of a rut on the slope that might have been what caused Thursday’s issue.

Afterward, Shiffrin said she could imagine people back home thinking before the slalom portion of the combined: “This could just be the medal that salvages everything, after all.”

Advertisement

But instead, she said, “I just feel like a joke.”

On Thursday evening, Shiffrin posted two tweets – one with critical words that seemed to come from social media, the other with her response to “the people who have so much apparent hate.”

In truth, her series of miscues were as hard for her to believe as for anyone else.

“Beyond walking away from the Games with no medals – no individual medals – the most disappointing thing is I had multiple opportunities to ski slalom on this track,” Shiffrin said, “and I, well, you know, failed in all of them.”

Now she plans to enter the team event on Saturday, when the Alpine schedule concludes.

“She’s human; she’s just like the rest of us. She’s allowed to have ‘DNFs’ without it being this huge ordeal. It’s ski racing; something wrong can happen in a split-second. It’s just the way it goes. We have too many elements and you can’t always be 100% perfect,” said U.S. teammate Bella Wright, who also wasn’t able to finish the slalom part of the combined. “It’s really unfortunate and I feel really badly for her. But I’m not worried about her. She’s just fine.”

Advertisement

CURLING: Britain and Sweden will play for the gold medal in men’s curling.

Britain beat the United States 8-4 and Sweden topped Canada 5-3 in the semifinals at the Ice Cube venue in Beijing. John Shuster’s American foursome, the reigning gold medalists, will play Canada for the bronze.

Trailing 5-4 at the five-end break, the Americans intentionally blanked three straight ends to retain control of the last-rock advantage, known as the hammer. They would have happily done it again in the ninth end, but Britain boxed them in, and Shuster intentionally threw away his last stone – conceding one point to retain the hammer in the 10th, trailing 6-4.

Bruce Mouat’s foursome left Shuster no good options for his final stone, and in desperation he wound up knocking away all of the red rocks in the scoring area to leave two British yellow ones.

“We lost to a team that played better. That’s the long and the short of it,” U.S. second Matt Hamilton said. “There’s nothing you can really say or to sugarcoat it.”

Shuster is seeking a third Olympic medal – he won bronze in 2006.

Advertisement

“I learned a lot in Torino back in 2006, because you have this huge disappointment. And then, you know, it’s really easy to just let that disappointment linger,” he said.

“But you know what we have to just realize is we have the opportunity to come back here and be on an Olympic podium, winning an Olympic medal for the United States of America. And I think we’re going to – I know we’re going to be ready to come out tomorrow and play and do that.”

SPEEDSKATING: Miho Takagi of Japan won her fourth medal of the Beijing Games and the first individual gold of her career with an Olympic-record victory in the women’s 1,000 meters.

The silver went to Jutta Leerdam of the Netherlands, while Brittany Bowe of the United States claimed the first individual medal of her career with a bronze.

Takagi won with a time of 1 minute, 13.19 seconds, easily breaking the previous Olympic record of 1:13.56 set in 2018 by Jorien ter Mors. Leerdam posted a time of 1:13.83 despite dragging her left hand on the ice to stay upright in a turn. Bowe grabbed the bronze in 1:14.61.

NORDIC COMBINED: Norway won gold in the Nordic combined team competition, overcoming the COVID-related loss of Jarl Magnus Riiber.

Advertisement

The team of four-time Olympic gold medalist Joergen Graabak, Jens Luraas Oftebro, Espen Bjoernstad and Espen Andersen pulled away late in the cross-country race, winning by 54.9 seconds.

It was an impressive result after Riiber, a three-time champion, chose to go home earlier in the day because he didn’t feel fit to compete.

Germany won silver, giving Eric Frenzel a seventh Olympic medal in Nordic combined to match the record set by Austrian great Felix Gottwald.

Frenzel had only one day to train for the final Nordic combined event because he was in isolation after testing positive for COVID-19 upon arrival in China.

Japan finished third, getting an Olympic medal in a Nordic combined competition for the first time since winning gold at the 1994 Lillehammer Games.

The United States finished sixth in the 10-team event, with four-time Olympian Taylor Fletcher starting strong and Ben Loomis, Jasper Good and Jared Shumate putting together solid performances on the cross-country course.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.