Shiffrin of U.S. finishes 5th behind giant slalom gold medalist Maze
The four women who ruined 18-year-old Mikaela Shiffrin's red-carpet debut had a 33-year total age advantage on the young American.
The top three finishers in the giant slalom were Olympic champions before they slid out of the start gate. The winner, Tina Maze of Slovenia, hadn't won a gold medal since ... the women's downhill Feb. 12.
Maze, 30, probably has ski socks older than Shiffrin.
On a brutally relentless day when fog, sleet and rain were the real winners, Maze ripped her first run from the first start position and made it stand up.
"I knew I had to risk everything on the first run," Maze said.
Her two-run time of 2 minutes 36:87 seconds was enough to hold off Austria's Anna Fenninger by seven-hundredths of a second. Fenniger, 24, didn't mind so much because she already had a Sochi super-giant slalom gold "in my back pocket."
Germany's Viktoria Rebensburg, 24, the defending Olympic giant slalom champion, won bronze.
Maze waited until 30 to win her first gold, and then she won two. She became the first woman to win the downhill and giant slalom in the same Olympics since Marie-Theres Nadig of Switzerland in 1972.
Shiffrin seemed to understand the day's context after she finished fifth.
She could see the top from where she stood, only half a second back of the gold and 0.23 from bronze.
Things don't always go as meticulously planned. U.S. teammate Julia Mancuso, the 2006 giant slalom champion, barely made it out of the first-run start gate before skidding off with a "did not finish."
As debuts go, Shiffrin did fine. She actually finished one spot ahead of her current No. 6 World Cup giant slalom ranking.
Shiffrin's specialty is the slalom, where she is ranked No. 1 and will be the favorite Friday.
She advanced expectations, though, by improving so quickly in giant slalom this year that she thought she could step in and steal a medal.
This wasn't a day, though, for the young and restless. It was a day for grizzled World Cup fighter pilots who have fought and skied in all conceivable conditions.
"This is not what she prepped for," Jeff Shiffrin, Mikaela's father, said. "I think it takes tons of experience to really kill this and she skied really well. I'm really happy for her. ...These are the kinds of conditions that years and years help you with."
Shiffrin had two solid runs. She lost time on a wide turn early in her first run but, because of poor visibility, even her dad didn't notice.
Shiffrin didn't blame the conditions, as she promised she would not.
"It was a pretty spectacular day, actually," she said. "I mean it's not sunny, but on the other hand who gets to race their first Olympics in rain this bad when there's still snow on the ground, right?"
Shiffrin praised the women who skied faster than she did.
"I think it was a pretty fair race," she said. "And I'm just really in awe of the top three girls and the fourth girl (Nadia Fanchini, 27, of Italy), because she was ahead of me."
Shiffrin said she would analyze the race tape and see where she could improve in Friday's slalom.
Shiffrin put Tuesday in the file cabinet under "learning experience," but also served up some interesting bravado.
"Next Olympics I go to I'm sure the heck not getting fifth," she said.
Shiffrin said race day did not overwhelm her and she quickly put it in big-picture perspective.
"I believed I wasn't going to win my first World Cup slalom race until I was ready because if I won it a minute sooner then I wouldn't be able to continue to win," Shiffrin said. "I think it's the same for GS. I was really thinking my first GS win would be at the Olympics and that would be such a cool thing to accomplish, but it's just something I accept."
The bottom line was presented to her at the bottom of the hill.
"I got fifth today," she said. "There were four girls who skied better than I did."
She'll try not to let that happen again Friday.
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