Weather delays aren’t aiding Shiffrin’s quest
PYEONGCHANG — Mikaela Shiffrin has yet to win or lose in her pursuit of multiple gold medals at the Pyeongchang Olympics, but that quest became more knotty Wednesday when organizers postponed the slalom event.
High winds moved the women’s slalom, which Shiffrin won at the 2014 Sochi Games, to Friday. The women’s giant slalom, also a strength of Shiffrin’s, had already been postponed from Monday to Thursday.
The revised race program means that Shiffrin now has races on three consecutive days, beginning with Thursday’s giant slalom and concluding with the women’s super-G on Saturday. That’s a gruelling schedule in a pressure-filled setting like the Olympics, and it could cause her to change her plans.
There is no guarantee that Shiffrin will race in the super-G now because she will be coming off the stress of the slalom and giant slalom competitions, which are each two-run race days that can last seven hours or more. The rearranged races will steal an off day from Shiffrin and leave her with little time, if any, for fresh training in the super-G leading to the race.
At the same time, because of the fickle weather, Lindsey Vonn — Shiffrin’s notable, if unspoken, rival — has quietly gained an upper hand by simply waiting out of sight.
Rising before dawn Wednesday, Shiffrin was on the racecourse for more than an hour, inspecting and memorizing the intricate pattern of slalom gates to better her chances at defending her Olympic title.
She seemed especially engrossed by the task on the slope, her concentration perhaps heightened by the frequent number of delays.
As for Vonn, what has she been doing while Shiffrin has sweated out interminable race delays and nasty weather that has disrupted her training as well? Vonn has had plenty of time to rest and to pick and choose her times to train as she focuses on her events — the downhill, super-G and Alpine combined, which take place in the span of a week beginning Saturday. Vonn seems at ease as she waits for her Olympic journey to begin, apparently on time and as scheduled.
Shiffrin would also like to enter one or two more events next week. But that was a plan from a week ago. Back then, the notion that Shiffrin would chase medals in five Olympic events seemed more plausible because the races were evenly spaced across 12 days, not wedged into nine action-packed days.
For nearly a year now, Shiffrin expected to be done with roughly half of her odyssey at the Pyeongchang Olympics by nightfall on Feb. 14. In the best-case scenario, she would have swept two of her best events, or at least earned a medal in both. Then in the second week she would play with house money, especially since she would be a clear favourite in the final individual race of the Olympics — the women’s Alpine combined, which is one downhill and one slalom run.
Instead, she is still being held back, like a skier in the start gate prohibited from pushing past the timing wand to start a race.
The silver lining from the postponements is the winds sweeping through northeastern South Korea would have made the slalom and the giant slalom races either unsafe or unfair. If officials had held Wednesday’s race, an ill-timed uphill gust could have doomed Shiffrin’s chance at a medal. A gust of wind at a racer’s back might have inequitably affected who won the race.
Mikaela Shiffrin looks over the course on Wednesday.