YANQING, China (Reuters) -Mikaela Shiffrin’s nightmare start to the Beijing Olympics continued on Wednesday as the American skied out on the first run of the slalom, failing to finish for the second race in a row.
The 26-year-old, who has dominated the technical events in recent years, was eliminated from the competition after missing an early gate barely five seconds into her run. She had also crashed out on the first run of the giant slalom on Monday.
“I was pushing, there was no space to slip up even a little bit … it feels like a really big let down,” Shiffrin told reporters.
The biggest hope for the United States’ Alpine team, and one of the finest slalom skiers the sport has seen, stood staring at the gate in disbelief before slowly making her way down the side of the course — which had been set by her coach Mike Day.
“My entire career has taught me to trust in my skiing … when the pressure is high, of course the pressure is high but that didn’t feel like the biggest issue today.
“It’s not the end of the world and it’s stupid to care this much but I feel like I have to question a lot now,” she added, fighting back tears as she spoke to reporters.
A four-time world champion and six-times World Cup slalom season winner, Shiffrin won slalom gold at the Sochi Olympics in 2014 and finished fourth in Pyeongchang four years later.
Germany’s Lena Duerr, who leads the first run with a time of 52.17, said it was rare to see Shiffrin go out so soon.
“It’s very unusual for Mikaela to go out this early, also in the giant slalom and now in the slalom , clearly something is off,” she said.
“She has won so much and knew she was the clear favourite and I think that does leave an effect, even on someone like Mikaela.”
Shiffrin’s World Cup rival, Slovak Petra Vlhova, is placed eighth after the first run, 0.72 seconds behind Duerr.
Switzerland’s Michelle Gisin was second fastest, just three hundredths behind Duerr, with Beijing giant slalom gold medal winner Sara Hector a further nine hundredths back.
Shiffrin had headed to China with high expectations, former team mates such as Lindsey Vonn suggesting she could even medal in all events.
Former Olympic downhill champion Vonn was quick to offer support to her compatriot.
“Gutted for @MikaelaShiffrin but this does not take away from her storied career and what she can and will accomplish going forward. Keep your head high,” she tweeted.
Shiffrin has two gold medals from her three Olympics so far — she won the giant slalom in Pyeongchang. She also has 73 career wins on the World Cup circuit.
While slalom and giant slalom were her favoured events, Shiffrin still has a strong chance to medal in the combined, and could also elect to compete in the speed events — downhill and super-G.
Her World Cup season and Olympic preparation had been hampered by testing positive for COVID-19 in late December, forcing her to miss two races. But even with that disruption her two early exits in Beijing have been a total shock.
“It’s a letdown of everything. It’s letting down myself, letting down other people,” she said. “There were some people that expected I might win. Maybe hoped I might win.
“I know that for the people working closest to me, we’re all crossing our fingers and also doing all of the work I could possibly do to give myself the best chance and its a letdown for them.
“We came all this way and we’re not done yet.”
(Writing by Simon Evans, additional reporting by Shadia Nasralla and Simon Jennings; Editing by Peter Rutherford)