(L-R) Mikaela Shiffrin, Michelle Gisin of Switzerland and Wendy Holdener of Switzerland celebrate after the women's alpine combined at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 on Feb. 22, 2018 in PyeongChang, South Korea.
JEONGSEON, South Korea -- Mikaela Shiffrin entered the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 as a medal threat in four, and potentially even all five, individual alpine skiing events. But she knew she would have to forego some events in order to maximize her performance, especially when weather began to play a part in rescheduling races.
Shiffrin announced earlier in the week that she would not race in Wednesday’s downhill – an event she was on the podium for at three world cup races this season — in order to focus on the next day’s alpine combined.
Looking back on her experience at the Games, with shiny new gold and silver medals in her possession, she’s feeling pretty satisfied with her choice.
“I think it was a huge decision, but also the right decision to skip the downhill race because I didn’t feel like I was at the level to really contend for a medal,” Shiffrin said. “And then coming out here today, I did everything I needed to do to have a shot for a medal and it’s really cool to have that work out.”
Shiffrin won silver in the combined on Thursday for her second Olympic medal of these Games and third of her career. This also marks the third different alpine event Shiffrin has medaled in at the Olympics, following her 2014 gold in slalom and the giant slalom gold she won last week. She joins Julia Mancuso and Bode Miller as the only Americans to earn medals in three events.
Switzerland’s Michelle Gisin won gold in the PyeongChang combined in 2:20.90, while her teammate Wendy Holdener took bronze in 2:22.34
Alpine combined is a unique event that requires its athletes to be a jack of all trades than a master of one. Athletes compete in one downhill run, followed by a slalom run a few hours later.
Speed skiers like Lindsey Vonn tend to dominate the downhill portion and technical skiers like Shiffrin rule the slalom portion. The athletes that manage to balance the challenges of both the distinct courses end up with the hardware.
Holdener said that the PyeongChang courses were especially challenging for specialized skiers.
“It was a lot of long turns so it was hard for the slalom skiers to ski downhill,” said the bronze medalist. “On the other side it was hard for the downhill skiers to ski slalom because it was really steep in the beginning but really short.”
Vonn, who won downhill bronze one day earlier and became the oldest women’s alpine skier to win an Olympic medal, was in the lead by 0.97 seconds after the downhill run of the combined.
Shiffrin sat in sixth.
“She made a mistake very early in the downhill and I think that sets the tone,” Shiffrin’s coach Mike Day said of her aggressive start that ultimately slowed her down. “This particular downhill, once you establish velocity, you continue to maintain that velocity and if you don’t establish that and make a mistake early up then it just sort of continues to add up on the way down.”
But Shiffrin lived up to her reputation and had the third-fastest time in the slalom run and secured her spot on the podium with a two-run time of 2:21.87.
Alice Merryweather finished in 15th for Team USA with a time of 2:26.90. Vonn, racing last in slalom after her dominant downhill lead, missed a gate and did not finish the race.
“I fought as hard as I could,” Vonn said. “Sometimes when I’m trying to be aggressive in slalom, I make my turn a little too early and I straddle, and I did that today as well in the combined in Vancouver.”
“I would’ve loved to have been there and made it to the finish but such is life,” she said with a shrug. “I kind of just had a feeling today that I had nothing to lose so I might as well just go out guns blazing and I did.”
She said she’s proud of her accomplishments after what will likely be her last Olympic Winter Games. Not only has she achieved more on the slopes than any other female skier in history, but she’s helped pave the way for young women and girls to follow in her footsteps.
One of those young women who will help carry on the tradition that she worked so hard for is Shiffrin, who is 11 years Vonn’s junior.
“It's incredible what she's able to accomplish. She's so young and she approaches ski racing much different than pretty much anyone else." Vonn said. "I think she can ski for another 10 years and have a lot more medals and a lot more world cups. But as I saw in my career, things can change quite quickly and you never know what’s going to happen. That’s why you have to appreciate every moment that you have.”
Cat Hendrick is a student in the sports media program at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. She is part of TeamUSA.org’s coverage team for the PyeongChang Games.