By Simon Evans
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (Reuters) – Sweden’s Frida Hansdotter won gold in the women’s slalom as defending champion and clear favorite Mikaela Shiffrin of the United States failed to even reach the podium.
Shiffrin has utterly dominated women’s slalom, winning four of the last five World Cup season titles and the last three World Championships, as well as the gold in Sochi four years ago.
But her performance was well below her usual standards and she said she had been unwell prior to her first run.
Hansdotter’s combined time from the two legs was one minute 38.63 leaving her just 0.05 seconds ahead of Switzerland’s Wendy Holdener, who had led after a brilliant first leg run.
“I knew it would be tough, Mikaela has been so strong this season. I was maybe a little bit surprised. It’s nice for me to beat her for once because she has been beating me so many times,” said Hansdotter.
“It’s completely magic. I’ve battled so hard for this medal. Winning Olympic gold is a dream”.
Austria’s Katharina Gallhuber, who has never reached the podium in a World Cup race and is ranked 10th in slalom in the World Cup, was in the bronze medal position with Shiffrin fourth, 0.40 behind Hansdotter.
Shiffrin had been aiming to become the first skier to defend an Olympic slalom title but she looked flat in her first leg and needing to make up time in her second run, she was actually slower.
After the race the 22-year-old stepped back from her suggestion that she was struggling with her health and said she had no excuses.
“The only one who can beat myself in slalom is me and I beat myself in the wrong way today,” she said.
“It’s a really big bummer but I will learn. Coming here and skiing the way that I did, really conservative, was a huge, huge disappointment. It’s hard to explain how that feels but that’s how life goes.”
Hansdotter, a 32-year-old veteran of the World Cup circuit, will become the second Swedish woman to win Olympic slalom following Anja Paerson in Turin in 2006.
She was the season World Cup winner in slalom in 2006 and had won slalom silver in the 2015 World Championships in Beaver Creek.
Holdener wasn’t able to capitalize fully on beautiful first run of 48.89 seconds, as the first skier of the day, but she was delighted to have a silver medal.
“My legs weren’t that fast on the second run, I felt the pressure so I fought to the end and I’m really happy to get the second place,” she said.
The biggest upset was 20-year-old outsider Gallhuber finishing ahead of Shiffrin into bronze after a near perfect second run of 48.83 — the fastest leg of the day.
“After the first run I was a bit behind so I knew I needed a really good second run and I had to all in. Yeah, unbelievable that it happened. I am speechless and I can’t believe it,” she said.
(Additional reporting by Ian Ransom and Rory Carroll; Editing by Greg Stutchbury/Sudipto Ganguly/Amlan Chakraborty)