Shiffrin, Miller make Sochi skiing 1 for the ages
By HOWARD FENDRICH
The ASSOCIATED pRESS | February 24,2014
Women’s slalom gold medalist Mikaela Shiffrin listens to her country’s national anthem during the medals ceremony at the 2014 Winter Olympics on Saturday in Sochi, Russia.
KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — From Mikaela Shiffrin to Bode Miller, from Mario Matt to Henrik Kristoffersen, Alpine skiing at the Sochi Olympics was one for the ages.
The 18-year-old Shiffrin already was pegged as the sport’s face of the future, and she established herself as a star of the present by becoming the youngest slalom champion in Olympic history.
“It’s going to be something that I chalk up as one of my favorite experiences for the rest of my life,” the precocious Shiffrin said. “But my life’s not over yet.”
Yes, she seems to be just getting started.
Her U.S. teammate Miller, meanwhile, took home a bronze in the super-G, his sixth Olympic medal. At 36, he is the oldest Alpine medalist ever.
Matt, who turns 35 in April, won the schedule-closing men’s slalom on Saturday night for Austria to become the sport’s oldest gold medalist. Krisoffersen, 19, was third in that race, making the Norwegian the youngest man to win an Olympic Alpine medal.
“Guys like Bode and guys like Mario definitely are validation that you can continue on into the later years,” said Ted Ligety, the American who won the giant slalom.
“I plan on continuing on,” said Ligety, who would be 33 at the 2018 Olympics.
Here are five things to know about the Alpine events on the Rosa Khutor slopes:
AUSTRIA’S BACK: Four years ago, Austria’s skiers left the Vancouver Games with four medals, zero earned by their men. This time, the ski-loving nation led everyone with nine medals, starting off with gold from Matthias Mayer in the opening race, the downhill, and capping things off with a 1-2 finish by Matt and Marcel Hirscher in the slalom. Anna Fenninger won gold in the super-G and silver in the giant slalom.
U.S. RECOVERY: Midway through the Alpine schedule, the U.S. had won one of 15 medals, Julia Mancuso’s bronze in the super-combined. U.S. Alpine director Patrick Riml’s assessment then? “We probably expected a little more, to be honest,” he said, adding that he was certain his skiers would fare better the rest of the way. He was right. Less than 24 hours later, Andrew Weibrecht’s stunning silver and Miller’s bronze in the super-G got the team going. Then came golds from Ligety and Shiffrin, helping a team missing the injured Lindsey Vonn finish with five medals. “I said halfway through, `It’s not over yet,”’ Riml said. “And the next day, the guys pulled something out.”
SVINDAL’S STRUGGLES: Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway arrived with high expectations, having won three medals in 2010. But skiing what he called “the worst races I did this year,” the two-time overall World Cup champion was fourth in the downhill, eighth in the super-combined, and seventh in the super-G. He left early, citing allergies he thought were caused by “the concrete that’s in the air.”
OUT OF NOWHERE: Weibrecht never has finished better than 10th in a World Cup race and yet he now owns two Olympic medals, including a bronze in the 2010 super-G. A month later, he hurt his shoulder, and wound up having four operations in the past four years. He wasn’t the only surprising medalist this time: Dominique Gisin of Switzerland shared gold in the women’s downhill, the first tie for first in Olympic Alpine skiing. Gisin has only won three World Cup races, owns zero world championship medals and has had nine knee operations. “It’s the story of my career. Up, down, forward, backward,” Gisin said. “Every little tiny bit, I (fought) for, and it makes me proud that finally I made it to the top.”
SAYING GOODBYE: The other women’s downhill champion was Tina Maze of Slovenia, who also got gold in the giant slalom and finished in the top eight in all five races. Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany left with two medals, too — gold in super-combined and silver in super-G. Maze is 30, Hoefl-Riesch is 29, and both said they won’t be at the next Olympics. Ivica Kostelic of Croatia, who earned his fourth silver, and Benjamin Raich of Austria, whose four medals include two golds from Turin in 2006, both indicated their Olympic careers are done, too. Kostelic is 34, Raich turns 36 on Friday. As for how long Miller will keep at it? “You never know about Bode,” Riml said with a laugh.
AP Sports Writers Pat Graham, Graham Dunbar and Andrew Dampf contributed to this report.
Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich