published Friday, February 21st, 2014

U.S. teen Mikaela Shiffrin wins Olympic slalom gold

United States' Mikaela Shiffrin skis past a gate during the women's slalom at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia.
United States' Mikaela Shiffrin skis past a gate during the women's slalom at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — Mikaela Shiffrin made Alpine skiing history Friday as the youngest ever winner of an Olympic slalom gold medal after making an astonishing recovery midway through her second run.

The 18-year-old American showed impressive balance and agility to protect her lead from a near-flawless first run to win in 1 minute, 44.54 seconds.

She finished 0.53 seconds faster than veteran Marlies Schild of Austria, one of Shiffrin's childhood favorites. Schild has now got a slalom medal at three straight Olympics without winning gold.

Kathrin Zettel of Austria took bronze, trailing 0.81 behind Shiffrin.

Shiffrin hesitated to celebrate as she completed her run, and only seemed sure she had won when Schild and Zettel came across the finish area to raise her arms in triumph.

She took the record for youngest Olympic slalom champion, male or female, from Paoletta Magoni of Italy, who won gold at the 1984 Sarajevo Games when she was 19.

Schriffin completed a full set of slalom honors — Olympic and world championship gold medals and a season-long World Cup discipline title — before her 19th birthday next month.

This time, however, she won from the front instead of her usual aggressive second-run tactics to overhaul other racers.

Shiffrin had built a 0.49 advantage over Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany with a near-flawless first run in late afternoon, using nimble footwork to deal with soft snow and a tight gate-setting on the steep course.

Schild had been only sixth-fastest, trailing Shiffrin by 1.34.

Hoefl-Riesch faded on her second time down to finish fourth in what is likely her Olympic farewell race, 1.19 behind Shiffrin and 0.38 outside the medals.

"No matter what's going to happen, I had a great Olympic career," said Hoefl-Riesch, who has been the subject of speculation that she will retire when the season ends next month. "It's really emotional."

Shiffrin is the first American woman to get a slalom medal of any color since Barbara Cochran won gold at the 1972 Sapporo Olympics.

She showed her patriotic colors wearing a stars-and-stripes design on her race helmet and a small painted flag on the right side of her neck.

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