PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (AP) — That Mikaela Shiffrin would earn two medals at the Pyeongchang Olympics was not all that surprising. That neither would come in the slalom, a race she won at the 2014 Games and has ruled for five years? Now that part was a surprise.
That Marcel Hirscher finally would collect his first career gold medal — two, in fact — shocked no one, given how dominant he’s been on the World Cup circuit for the better part of a decade. But he, like Shiffrin, came up short in the slalom, his best event, failing to even complete the first of two runs.
Alpine skiing turned in more than its share of hard-to-predict story lines over the past couple of weeks, including a constant shuffling of the schedule that led to a series of postponements and one race being moved up to a day earlier than originally planned. That affected plenty of skiers, of course. For Shiffrin, it meant recalibrating her plans and entering three individual races instead of all five.
“It’s been really a mental rollercoaster,” said Shiffrin, who leaves with the gold from the giant slalom and the silver from the combined, along with a fourth-place finish in the slalom. “By the time the first race day came, I was like, ‘I am ready to go.’ And then it was postponed. And we were all thinking, like, ‘Yeah, you come to the Olympics, you know that weather is a factor.’ But you don’t really expect that it’s going to be that much of a factor.”
She will assess how to better handle all of that if it arises in four years.
Of all the unexpected elements, nothing was more unforeseeable than Ester Ledecka’s gold medal for the Czech Republic in the super-G. She is, after all, only a part-time skier, someone who became the first to compete in Alpine and snowboarding at an Olympics — and she won an event in each sport, to boot. In skiing, she came from nowhere to beat a stacked field that included Lindsey Vonn and defending champion Anna Veith.
Ledecka’s victory ranks among the unlikeliest in the history of the sport.
“Just wow,” said Switzerland’s Michelle Gisin, who would go on to top Shiffrin by nearly a second to win the combined event five days later.
Here is a look at what else to know about Alpine skiing at the 2018 Winter Olympics:
Never have this many, um, experienced ski racers been this successful at an Olympics. Vonn became, at 33, the oldest woman with an Alpine medal , taking home the bronze in the downhill. She was the gold medalist in that event at the 2010 Vancouver Games, then sat out Sochi four years later after tearing knee ligaments. This, then, was her return — and farewell — to the Olympics. “When you get to a certain point, after a certain amount of injuries, you just can’t get back to the level you were at,” the American said. “I think I’ve fought as hard as I’ve could to get to a place where I’m really competitive but I’m not where I used to be, and I never will be, and that’s probably the hardest thing for me to take.” Also making the older set look good: Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal, whose downhill victory made him, at 35, the oldest Olympic skiing champion; and Sweden’s Andre Myhrer, who became the oldest slalom champion at 35, but slightly younger than Svindal.
Austria (three golds), Switzerland (two golds) and Norway (one gold) led the way with seven medals apiece. Switzerland’s Wendy Holdener was the only skier with three medals — gold in the team event’s Olympic debut, silver in slalom, bronze in combined — and Austria’s Hirscher was the only double gold medalist. Shiffrin leaves with a gold and silver.
The expectation is that the Alpine combined event (which adds the time of one downhill run and one slalom run) will be gone from the Olympics next time. This year’s Winter Games featured the introduction of the team event with parallel slalom racing, as two skiers head down the hill side-by-side — and many in the sport think there eventually could be medals for an individual parallel event.
The U.S. took home its fewest Alpine golds (one) since 2002, and fewest total medals in the sport (three) since 2006. The men were shut out, with merely one top-10 finish. U.S. Alpine director Patrick Riml called the men’s performance “disappointing” and said that “we definitely have to rebuild” before the 2022 Beijing Games.
AP Sports Writers Graham Dunbar and Pat Graham contributed to this report.
More AP Olympic coverage: https://wintergames.ap.org/