KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia Normally so composed, so in control, so not-very-teenlike on and off the slopes, Mikaela Shiffrin suddenly found herself in an awkward position halfway through the second leg of the Olympic slalom.
Guilty, perhaps, of charging too hard as she swayed this way and that around the course’s gates, Shiffrin briefly lost her balance. Her left ski rose too far off the snow. Her chance at a gold medal in the event she’s dominated for two years was about to slip away.
“Yeah, that was pretty terrifying for me. There I was, I’m like, ‘Grrreat. I’m just going to go win my first medal.’ And then, in the middle of the run, I’m like, ‘Guess not,’ ” the American said with a laugh Friday night. “So like, ‘No. Don’t do that. Do not give up. You see this through.’ My whole goal was to just keep my skis moving.”
Somehow, she did just that. Shiffrin stayed upright, gathered herself and, although giving away precious time there, was able to make a big lead from the first leg stand up. She won by more than a half-second to become, at 18, the youngest slalom champion in Olympic history.
“It’s going to be something that I chalk up as one of my favorite experiences for the rest of my life,” Shiffrin said. “But my life’s not over yet.”
No, Mikaela, it’s not. It’s only just beginning. Think about this for a moment: How might a typical American teenager have spent her Friday night? At the mall with friends? At a movie? At a high school dance?
Shiffrin spent hers outracing the best skiers in the world down a floodlit Rosa Khutor course, knocking aside gates with her neon yellow pole handles. She was fastest in the first run, then sixth-fastest in the second, for a combined time of 1 minute, 44.54 seconds.
Shiffrin, while a resident of Vail, Colo., has a Capital Region connection. Her uncle, Stephen Herrick, serves as judge in Albany County Court. An associate at Herrick’s office confirmed the family tie Friday evening.
A pair of Austrians won silver and bronze: Marlies Schild was 0.53 behind Shiffrin, and Kathrin Zettel was 0.81 back. At 32, Schild is the oldest Olympic slalom medalist ever — old enough to have been someone Shiffrin looked up to as, well, even more of a kid than she is now.
“I won my age class,” Schild joked.
She holds the record with 35 career World Cup slalom wins and now owns three Olympic medals in the discipline, two silvers and a bronze.
“You know what’s surreal? That Marlies and Mikaela are on a podium together,” said Shiffrin’s father, Jeff. “Marlies, she’s battled, she’s had injuries, but she’s been the queen of slalom. Mikaela has said, ‘I’ve channeled Marlies.’ ”
Shiffrin has won nine of the past 19 World Cup or world championship slaloms; no one else has won more than two in that span. Last year, her slalom world title made her the youngest champion in any event since 1985.