Mikaela Shiffrin’s bid for a record medal haul at the Winter Olympics got off to a rocky start on Monday morning when the American star missed a gate early in the first run of the giant slalom and was disqualified.
The 26-year-old overall World Cup leader, the seventh racer out of the starting gate, was unable to hold the edge of her ski early on the steep technical course known as the Ice River and skied out five turns in, falling on her left hip and ending her Olympic title defense only seconds into her Beijing debut.
“I won’t hide the disappointment but I’m not going to dwell on it because that won’t help me,” a downcast Shiffrin said afterward. “I felt that I was pushing really quite well and attacking. But there was just one turn, I had a small, small mistiming when I really went to push on my edges and that makes all the difference.”
It marked only the third time in four years that Shiffrin has failed to finish a race and the 14th in a total of 229 starts across all disciplines at World Cup, Olympic and world championship events. Her most recent DNF in a giant slalom came during the first run of a January 2018 race at Kronplatz, Italy, two weeks before the Pyeongchang Games.
“It doesn’t happen too often that I am falling,” she said. “I have been really working on the right timing of my turns and really never thought this was going to be part of the issue. But it wasn’t because I was holding back, so I can be proud of that. But it’s five turns into the Olympic GS, there’s disappointment for sure.”
The Colorado native was one of 22 non-finishers, more than a quarter of the 82 total entrants, who struggled on the icy surface of the unfamiliar piste on the south side of Xiaohaituo Mountain, where the usual test events that allow skiers to get used to the mountain were canceled due to Covid. Italy’s Marta Bassino, who won the World Cup giant slalom title last season and drew the No 5 bib on Monday, also fell early in her run.
Sweden’s Sara Hector, the most consistent giant slalom racer on the World Cup circuit this season, was in first place after Monday’s opening leg with a time of 57.56sec. Austria’s Katharina Truppe (0.30sec behind), Italy’s Federica Brignone (0.42) and Slovakia’s Meta Hrovat (0.92) were each within a second of the pace.
Slovakian star Petra Vlhová, the six-time world champion medallist who has never finished on an Olympic podium, was first out of the gate and finished 1.78 back in a tie for 13th.
Shiffrin, whose three Olympic medals include gold in slalom in 2014 and in giant slalom in 2018, has said her plan is to race all five individual events in Beijing. Her next crack at becoming the first US alpine skier to win three Olympic golds will come on Wednesday in the slalom.
“I’m going to reset, focus on what I can control for the slalom,” Shiffrin said. “There’s still a long two weeks to go and I’m still looking forward to it. I’m sorry that that was the performance I did today.”
Once a teenage prodigy who became the youngest Olympic slalom champion in history at the Sochi Games, Shiffrin has since blossomed from a specialist into the world’s best all-around skier, branching out into the speed events with success and becoming the only skier, male or female, to win World Cup races in all six disciplines.
Her 73 career wins on alpine skiing’s top circuit are third-most on the all-time leaderboard, trailing only Swedish great Ingemar Stenmark (86) and longtime US team-mate Lindsey Vonn (82).