Mikaela Shiffrin’s Olympic struggles continued Wednesday with another shocking early exit in the first run of the slalom race.
Just two days after crashing 11 seconds into the opening run of the giant slalom race — in which she was the defending gold medalist — the 26-year-old American recorded another “Did Not Finish,” having skidded out of control and missed a gate after about 5 seconds on the course.
Shiffrin, fighting back tears in a post-race interview on NBC, said she slipped and was unable to recover.
“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. “Just processing a lot, for sure.”
Shiffrin, a favorite in the slalom event and the 2014 gold medalist in the discipline, sat alone on the side of the course, which had been set by her coach Mike Day, with her head in her hands for several minutes after the disqualification. She has won 47 world cup races in slalom — the most by any skier in a single discipline — and the race was largely considered to be her best chance for gold at these Olympics.
“It feels like a really big letdown,” she said later in the mixed zone. “I was trying to kind of look back and think about the last days and what I’ve been trying to do and what I’ve been doing with my skiing that would suggest that on the fifth gate I would push myself a little bit too hard to actually stay on the course. There’s nothing that could have suggested that. I didn’t not finish a single run. My skiing has been really solid.
“My entire career has taught me to trust in my skiing if it’s good skiing. And that’s all that I have to rely on on these race days. And when the pressure is high, of course the pressure is high, but that didn’t feel like the biggest issue today.”
Retired three-time Olympic medalist Lindsey Vonn, to whom Shiffrin has been compared throughout her career, tweeted she was “gutted” for Shiffrin following the race.
— lindsey vonn (@lindseyvonn) February 9, 2022
Shiffrin had arrived in Beijing as one of the faces of the Games and with multi-medal expectations. She is seeking her fourth Olympic medal, and third gold, and is expected to have her next opportunity to claim it Friday in the super-G competition. She has never competed in that event at an Olympics but did win it at the 2019 world championships. She also is expected to participate in the downhill and combined events next week.
However, she raised some question about the rest of her competition schedule following Wednesday’s exit.
“I’ll try to reset again, and maybe try to reset better this time,” she said. “But I also don’t know how to do it better because I’ve never been in this position before and I don’t know how to handle it. The hill and the ski track looks pretty incredible, and I think it will be a pleasure to ski, but I also have some teammates who are really fast and we have the athletes who can fill the spaces. If I’m going to ski out on the fifth gate, what’s the point?”
One more gold medal would give Shiffrin the most ever by an American alpine skier.
It has been a challenging stretch for Shiffrin since the 2018 Olympics. Her father died in 2020, shortly before the start of the coronavirus pandemic, and she has talked openly about the emotional toll of his loss, as well as her struggles with motivation in the immediate aftermath. More recently she tested positive for COVID-19 in December and was briefly sidelined from competition at the start of the year.
In an interview with ESPN in December, Shiffrin was candid about her goals for Beijing.
“My goal is still to go and win gold medals,” she said. “That’s still my goal. But I could walk away from the Games without any medals and still feel like they were successful if I know I’ve raced my best. Alpine skiing is a sport where so many things are out of your control, the weather is such a variable.
“So for me, my coaches and all the people who travel with us do so much grueling work, and the smile on your coach’s face after you’ve done well is so gratifying. It’s such a good feeling to know that you’re proud of yourself, they’re proud of you and you did a good job and that’s really special. That’s really where the enjoyment really comes from for me.”
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.