I’ll remember tonight for the rest of my life. It was one of those nights when you realize you are seeing someone really special perform something that has never been done before.
At 18, Mikaela Shiffrin is the youngest Olympic slalom champion of all time. It could be her youth, it could be her technique, or it could just be that she has a natural talent for shredding slalom like no one else in history. She is only the fourth US woman to strike gold in the Olympic slalom, and the last time was in 1972, when Barbara Cochran won in Sapporo, Japan.
Shiffrin is skiing at a unmatched level. She's mature, and she skis both strategically and tactically under pressure. She did it at the World Championships last year, and she has done it again here in Sochi. Her athleticism, her fierce competitive spirit, and her ability to shrug off the pressure is the perfect recipe for a champion. Plus, she believes she is good.
“She was really confident today and said a few things that made me think she would win today," said her coach, Roland Pfeifer. "I noticed when she was 16, she was really special and she really thinks 24/7 about skiing. She is full-on all the time and a real professional.”
The first run of the Olympics slalom started at 4:45 p.m. Sochi time, and it was a warm overcast day and the snow was soft. To firm the snow up, they added a lot of salt to ice over the surface.
The course had a lot of cranky turns in it, and the top 10 skiers had the fastest times because the snow held up for them, but after that the course had holes and ruts in it.
Marlies Schild of Austria moved from seventh in the first run to winning the silver. Kathrin Zettel won bronze.
“On the first run, I pushed my skis too hard and the snow gave way under my feet. On the second run I was able to change everything and won silver,” Schild said.
The second run began at 8:15 p.m., and the course was set a bit wider, with open turns, and the women could let their skis ride straighter through most of the course. The temperature dropped just enough to harden the snow, and the course was in much better shape.
The second run was book-ended with two Americans – the top 30 run in reverse – so New Hampshire’s Julia Ford was the first one down the coarse and Shiffrin ran 30th.
“Both of the women on the podium with me tonight were my childhood heroes, and I’m just honored to be up here with them," Shiffrin said. "I’ve proven to myself that I can win. The gold medal will change me the way I want to be changed. I’m still going to be the same girl, and looking for more speed on the mountain.”
With that statement, Shiffrin embarked on a media tour with her gold medal. She'll likely handle that as well as she handled the icy terrain on the FIS World Cup and the Olympics, and it's also likely we will have many more memorable runs performed by a true champion.