Alpine ski star Mikaela Shiffrin says she must be “full gas, full precision” as she begins her bid for a third Olympic gold medal, and first of the Beijing Games, in Monday’s giant slalom.
The American claimed gold in the longer technical event at the Pyeongchang Olympics four years ago but will face a real challenge in her title defence at the National Alpine Skiing Centre in Yanqing.
“The giant slalom hill is short . . . and is going to be probably a different feeling than we’ve ever really had for a GS before,” said Shiffrin, who also won slalom gold at the 2014 Sochi Games.
“It’s expected to be under 50 seconds, like a very short GS. It’s a full-out sprint. You cannot afford to make mistakes, but you also cannot afford to hold back anywhere in order not to make mistakes.
“So it’s full gas, full precision, you just have to be totally on point.”
The discipline is raced over two runs on the same slope, with the starting order for the second run, like the slalom, dependent on results from the first run: the skier placed 30th will start, with the leader running last.
The format means there’s a nerve-racking run-in on the second run when racers push themselves to the limit in a bid to post the fastest combined time.
Shiffrin’s main rivals for gold include Slovak Petra Vlhova, the six-time world championship medallist who has often had to settle for second best to the American on the biggest stages.
“The season until now has been going very well for me so I am in a very good mental mood and physical shape as well, and fully focused for the Olympic competitions. I feel really strong,” said Vlhova.
Aged 26, like Shiffrin, Vlhova has just one world championship win to the American’s six and a best Olympic finish of fifth.
“For a long time Mikaela was better than me,” the Slovak said. “However, in the last seasons I showed clearly I am able to beat her often.
“We respect each other because we both know very well how difficult it is to become the best in the world.”
Sweden’s Sara Hector tops the World Cup giant slalom standings ahead of two-time former world champion Tessa Worley, one of France’s flag bearers at the opening ceremony.
More competition will come from Norway’s Olympic silver medallist Ragnhild Mowinckel and Austrian Katharina Liensberger, who won bronze behind Shiffrin and Swiss winner Lara Gut-Behrami at the 2021 world championships in Cortina, Italy.
“I am very happy the Olympics is this year and not last year,” Mowinckel said in reference to an injury-hit spell.
“The conditions and the hill are amazing . . . quite different from what we are normally used to in Europe.”