Gold medalist Mikaela Shiffrin of the US celebrates her victory in the Women's Giant Slalom. Photo: Reuters/Mike Segar
Gold medalist Mikaela Shiffrin of the US celebrates her victory in the Women's Giant Slalom. Photo: Reuters/Mike Segar

One down, four to go. American Mikaela Shiffrin glided towards gold in the giant slalom, the first of her five events, at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.

The 22-year-old skiing sensation plans to compete in the super-G, downhill, combined and slalom after finishing 0.39 sec ahead of Norway’s Ragnhild Mowinckel on Thursday.

“I have the slalom race tomorrow [Friday], so I have to refocus my energy, but to come to the Olympics after some tough races on the World Cup circuit and, you know, to charge like that … I risked it on the second run,” she told the media.

It might have been “risky” but her performance was a combination of grace and power. It was also the perfect start for Shiffrin, who won the slalom in Sochi four years ago.

In a contest of sharply fluctuating fortunes between the morning and afternoon runs, her combined time of 2 min 20.02 sec gave her a comfortable victory.

“I don’t know when it was, at some point today after the first run I thought, ‘I can really win this.’ I just tried to hang onto that feeling,” Shiffrin said. “I don’t know how to explain it. It’s crazy.

“There’s so much emotion. I have a lot of events to do still, so I have to refocus my energy,” she added.

Svindal heralds golden age

Who said it is a young man’s sport? At 35, Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal became the oldest Olympic alpine skiing champion in the history of the Winter Olympics when he held off compatriot Kjetil Jansrud to clinch the downhill gold.

In a nail-biting contest, Svindal edged out Jansrud by 0.12 sec, with Swiss world champion Beat Feuz taking bronze in Pyeongchang.

“It feels pretty good. I’m extremely happy,” Svindal, who won the super-G gold at Vancouver in 2010, told the media in understated tones on Thursday.

“The record is a thing you think about after, but right now it’s just the emotions when you cross the finish line and you see that you’re ahead. That’s bigger than any record,” he added.

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Predictably, the curse of the men’s downhill struck again when Austria’s Matthias Mayer became the latest to fail to retain the most prestigious title in skiing.

In 70 years of competition, no man has successfully defended the crown and that will continue after Mayer was way off the pace and finished ninth.

“It bothers me because it really worked well in training. I cannot be satisfied with that. I was never 1.2 sec behind in the entire season,” Mayer told Austrian TV station ORF.

“Especially in the middle part of the course, I lost too much time, but it seems that was the case for a lot of us,” he added.

Skeletons in the closet

It is enough to get under anyone’s skin. British skeleton racer Jerry Rice has dismissed speculation that the team’s high-tech “skin suits” could be illegal.

Earlier this week, The Guardian in London reported the “aerodynamic” suits used the same technology that had helped Team GB’s cyclists dominate at the summer Olympics since 2008.

Members of Team USA said, “a lot” of athletes and coaches had “questions” about the “suits”. But Rice, who is making his Olympic debut, pointed out that the equipment had been “checked and signed off” by tournament organizers.

“It doesn’t bother me, people can speculate as much as they like,” he told Reuters. “The fact of the matter is that the British guys are fast because we’re good at sliding.”

Let battle commence

As far as rivalries go, this was as good as it gets. Canada ended up with the bragging rights in their bid for a fifth consecutive women’s hockey gold when they edged out the United States 2-1 in a brutal preliminary round match

The showdown between the two hockey superpowers was played at a pace and skill level not witnessed in the other games, and reminded everyone that the US and Canada remain a class apart.

“It’s a rivalry, what would anyone else expect but exactly that,” Rob Stauber, the US coach, told the media.

Since women’s ice hockey became part of the Olympic program in 1998, Canada and the US have enjoyed a duopoly, playing for every gold medal except when Sweden crashed the party at the 2006 Turin Games.

– with Reuters