BEIJING — The first question posed to Mikaela Shiffrin as she met with reporters after her second consecutive quick exit from an Alpine skiing race at the Beijing Games was short, simple, and to the point: What happened?
The complicated, thought-out, talked-out answers that followed entailed little analysis of her actual performance on skis — which lasted all of five seconds before things went awry in Wednesday’s first run of the two-leg slalom, about half as long as the American stayed on course in Monday’s first run of the two-leg giant slalom — and, in the end, boiled down to this: Shiffrin herself was not exactly sure what brought her to this point or where she goes from here.
“I’ve never been in this position before,” the two-time Olympic gold medalist said, tears dampening her cheeks, “and I don’t know how to handle it.”
What the shaken Shiffrin was certain of: “It feels like a really big letdown.”
Quickly Loses Her Balance
The 26-year-old from Colorado, who won the slalom at the 2014 Sochi Games and the giant slalom at the 2018 Pyeonchgang Games, was the seventh racer out of the starting hut Wednesday on a course set by her coach, Mike Day.
She began losing her balance and teetering out of control just four seconds and four gates in, swerving too far as she veered to her right. The neon yellow handle of her right ski pole scraped along the snow as she ended up way wide of the fifth gate.
Shiffrin went over to the side of the course, clicked out of her skis and plopped herself down on the ground, shaking her head, then resting it on her arms atop her bent knees. That will be the lasting image of this day — back in the U.S., NBC’s coverage lingered on that shot of Shiffrin, drawing anger on social media from some viewers — and, perhaps, of these Olympics for someone who arrived in China as one of the biggest stars of any Winter Games sport.
“GS and slalom, those were my biggest focuses,” she said. “So it really feels like a lot of work for nothing.”
Silver Medalist: ‘A Really Easy Course’
Other racers said the top was not particularly slippery or difficult. Indeed, reigning slalom world champion Katharina Liensberger of Austria — who took the silver behind Wednesday’s gold medalist Petra Vlhova of Slovakia — called it “a really easy course.”
Vlhova, Shiffrin’s top World Cup rival this season, soared from eighth place after the opening run to the victory with a combined time of 1 minute, 44.98 seconds. She claimed Slovakia’s first Olympic Alpine medal ever.
In the closest Shiffrin came to offering an explanation for what went awry, she said was trying to attack too much.
“I was pushing,” she said, “and maybe it was past my limit.”
Shiffrin arrived with plans to enter all five individual races at the Yanqing Alpine Skiing Center, and another gold would make her only the second woman to win at least one from Alpine at three Olympics in a row.
So far, though, Shiffrin is 0 for 2.