YANQING, China (Reuters) – American Mikaela Shiffrin’s rivals see her as the skier to beat when the women’s Alpine programme at the Beijing Olympics gets underway with the giant slalom on Monday, but that does not mean they will give up without a fight.
Twice an Olympic gold medallist, Shiffrin is the reigning Olympic champion in the discipline and leads the overall World Cup standings despite spending time sidelined with COVID-19.
Shiffrin, 26, is the most dominant skier of her generation, with three Olympic medals, 73 World Cup wins and three overall World Cup titles, but is ranked third in giant slalom on the World Cup circuit this season, behind Sweden’s Sara Hector and France’s Tessa Worley.
“In giant slalom there are a lot of girls who can perform. We’re at least a dozen (who are) able to end up on the podium. You can expect anything; it’s the discipline where the competition is the toughest,” Worley said.
Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova, the 2019 world champion, is also in the mix for a medal, along with 2018 Games giant slalom silver medallist Ragnhild Mowinckel of Norway.
“I’ve been able to ski with (American) Lindsey Vonn. I’ve skied the Olympics with (Slovenian) Tina Maze and all the great ones you watched growing up,” Mowinckel said.
“But for sure skiing with (Shiffrin), the greatest skier of our time that is still active, it’s a pretty cool thing. I think a lot of us have learned a lot from watching her ski. It’s cool to still be here and still compete with her.”
Vlhova said she had narrowed the gap between herself and Shiffrin over the years.
“For a long time Mikaela was better than me,” she 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.”
Shiffrin herself is prepared to take things as they come as she begins her quest for a fourth Olympic medal and third gold, to go with her wins in slalom in Sochi and giant slalom in Pyeongchang.
“Getting to this point and being in contention is already a huge win,” she told Reuters. “Medals are never a given and this Olympics is no exception.”
The men’s downhill has also been rescheduled for Monday, on an adjacent course, after high winds forced it to be called off on Sunday.
(Reporting by Simon Jennings; editing by Clare Fallon)