Weather de­lays aren’t aid­ing Shiffrin’s quest

Waterloo Region Record - - Sports - BILL PEN­NING­TON

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.

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