YANQING, China (Reuters) -Petra Vlhova won Slovakia’s first Olympic Alpine skiing gold medal on Wednesday with victory in a tight women’s slalom race on the ‘Ice River’ course at the Beijing Games.
The Slovak’s victory, powering from eighth place after the first run, came after her fancied American rival Mikaela Shiffrin failed to finish the first leg.
Vlhova had an 0.08 advantage over silver medallist Katharina Liensberger of Austria with Switzerland’s Wendy Holdener in the bronze medal position a further four hundredths behind.
Germany’s Lena Duerr had been fastest after the first run but narrowly missed out on the podium, finishing fourth after her second run was 0.91 slower than Vlhova.
There was just 0.22 seconds between the winner and fifth-placed Andreja Slokar of Slovenia as the top skiers pulled out all the stops on their second run.
Sweden’s Sara Hector, who won gold in Monday’s giant slalom, was third after the first leg and was in the lead with the finishing line in sight but missed a gate.
The drama prompted emotional scenes in the finish area with tears of joy and sadness.
“All the girls were crying. Normally we are strong girls, but I guess it was a surprise for all of us,” said Holdener, who won a silver medal in Pyeongchang four years ago.
Shiffrin, the four-time slalom world champion, lasted little more than five seconds on the slope after also crashing out of the giant slalom on Monday.
Vlhova is the defending overall World Cup champion and current World Cup slalom leader but this is her first Olympic medal after she failed to reach the podium in her two previous Games.
The Slovak had been in eighth place after the first leg but delivered a near perfect run to take top spot.
“I gave everything I had and at the end I am Olympic champion,” she said.
“It’s difficult to say what it means to me right now. I have been dreaming all my life to win an Olympics or just to have medals.
“I have a lot of emotions right now, inside of me. This season I was really strong and today I gave everything,” she added.
Liensberger, the defending World Cup slalom champion and 2021 world champion in the event, had tested positive for COVID-19 and lost her grandfather recently.
“After all I had this season, I am just so thankful and proud and I want to give this medal a little bit to my grandpa. It wasn’t nice to lose him but I know he’s here and of course he looked out for me,” she said.
“Now it’s just wonderful to know I can be fast and ski at that level. It’s amazing to show that today.”
Vlhova’s victory was Slovakia’s first medal in Alpine skiing although Czechoslovakia won a bronze in downhill in 1984.
(Reporting by Simon Evans, Editing by Peter Rutherford and Ken Ferris)