On a rainy day in Russia, rising American skiing star Mikaela Shiffrin, 18, of Eagle-Vail, Colo. skied to fifth place Tuesday in the women’s giant slalom competition of the 2014 Sochi Olympic Winter Games on the Rosa Khutor course.
Making her first Olympic appearance as heavy rain pelted the 74 racers, reigning world women’s slalom champion Shiffrin put together a pair of consistent runs to finish just 0.50 seconds behind gold medalist Tina Maze, 30, of Slovenia.
Four-time Olympic medalist Maze, the 5-7, 150-pounder who shared the downhill gold medal last Wednesday with Swiss racer Dominique Gisin, held on to her huge first-run lead and moved up a spot from her Olympic giant slalom silver medal in Vancouver, B.C., Canada four years ago.
Maze (2:36.87) came home with the 11th-best second run time to beat Austria’s Anna Fenninger (2:36.94) by 0.07 seconds and put 2010 Olympic giant slalom gold medalist Viktoria Rebensburg of Germany (2:37:14) in third place.
Shiffrin, a 5-7 gate ace from Vermont’s Burke Mountain Academy, was 0.23 seconds off the podium and 0.50 seconds behind Maze as 67 racers finished the competition.
The mix of snow up top, fog mid-course and rain in the bottom provided added challenges during both runs. The snow surface held up despite the precipitation and provided great competition for the world’s top GS athletes, according to the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA) News Bureau.
Shiffrin told the USSA News Bureau afterward, “I wanted gold, but I think this was meant to happen. It’s something that I’ll learn from. Next Olympics I go to, I’m sure as heck not getting fifth.
“I was really thinking that my first GS win would be at the Olympics, and that would be such a cool thing to accomplish. It’s just something that I accept. I got fifth today, and there were four girls who skied better than I did.”
About the conditions, Shiffrin said, “It wasn't necessarily the worst-case scenario. The visibility was better than I thought it was going to be, and the conditions were really good for how much it’s precipitating. I think it was a pretty fair race, and I’m just really in awe of the top three girls. And also the fourth girl, she was ahead of me, too.”
Last year at Schladming, Aust., Shiffrin placed sixth in the International Ski Federation (FIS) World Championship giant slalom and won the gold medal in slalom two days later. She went on to capture the World Cup slalom title in only her second year of international racing.
Tuesday’s podium featured the top rank of GS racers.
Quickly becoming the dominant female alpine ski racer at the Sochi Olympics, talented pianist Maze is a two-time world champion in giant slalom and super giant slalom who won silver medals in both events at the Vancouver Winter Games.
In her 14th year on the World Cup tour, Maze put together a record-breaking World Cup season in 2012-13 with an astounding 2,414 points for the overall World Cup title.
Fenninger, 24, a 5-5, 132-pounder from Hallein, Austria who won the 2011 super combined world championship, won the gold medal in super giant slalom Feb. 15 at Rosa Khutor. She was fourth-fastest in the first run and third best in the second.
Having been sidelined for the first four weeks of the 2013-14 World Cup season with a lung illness, 24-year-old Rebensburg from Ketchum’s sister city of Tegernsee, Germany climbed from sixth place in the first run to the podium with the fastest second-run time Tuesday for the bronze medal.
Rebensburg’s Olympic GS gold in Vancouver four years ago was her first major international victory. She had placed 15th in downhill and ninth in SG at these Sochi Olympics.
Super combined bronze medalist Julia Mancuso, 29, of Squaw Valley, Ca. did not finish her first run Tuesday. It was her final race of the 2014 Olympics.
Resi Stiegler of Jackson Hole, Wyo. finished 29th and Megan McJames of Park City, Utah was 30th. Shiffrin, Stiegler, McJames and Julia Ford of Holderness, N.H. are due to start in Friday’s Olympic slalom race.
The women’s giant slalom will be featured on NBC’s primetime Olympic coverage tonight and can be streamed on NBCOlympics.com.
Olympic men are set to race their giant slalom Wednesday, Feb. 19. That’s when four-time World Cup GS champion Ted Ligety, 29, of Park City, Utah will seek to win his first Olympic medal for giant slalom. Also due to race are Bode Miller, Tim Jitloff and Jared Goldberg of Holladay, Utah.