Mikaela Shiffrin Pulls Out of Downhill Race After Schedule Change

PYEONGCHANG-GUN, SOUTH KOREA – FEBRUARY 16: Mikaela Shiffrin of the United States finishes during the Ladies’ Slalom Alpine Skiing at Yongpyong Alpine Centre on February 16, 2018 in Pyeongchang-gun, South Korea. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

Back at the last Olympics, Mikaela Shiffrin exuberantly talked about chasing five gold medals this time around. Now it turns out she’ll only enter three races at the 2018 Games.

The two-time gold medalist dropped out of Wednesday’s downhill race so she can focus on the Alpine combined event that was moved to the following day.

Shiffrin’s decision was announced Monday by U.S. Ski and Snowboard shortly after race officials said they were moving the combined up a day to Thursday because of strong winds in Friday’s forecast.

The downhill is Wednesday, so the 22-year-old American suddenly would have had to race on consecutive days. When she tried that earlier at the Pyeongchang Olympics, she followed up her gold in the giant slalom by finishing fourth in the slalom as the defending champion. She pulled out of the super-G on what would have been a third day in a row of racing.

“As much as I wanted to compete in the Olympic downhill, with the schedule change, it’s important for me to focus my energy on preparing for the combined,” Shiffrin said in a statement. “I’m looking forward to cheering on our girls racing in the downhill and to compete myself in Thursday’s combined.”

Her exit opens up a downhill spot for another American woman. The four-racer roster will be announced Tuesday.

The downhill is a relatively new event for Shiffrin, who first established herself as a star in what are known as the technical events of slalom and giant slalom. She has been improving steadily at the speed events of downhill and super-G — and earned her first World Cup victory in a downhill in Lake Louise, Canada, in December.

A day after becoming, at age 18, the youngest Olympic slalom champion during the 2014 Sochi Games, Shiffrin announced at a news conference: “Right now, I’m dreaming of the next Olympics (and) winning five gold medals, which sounds really crazy. I’m sorry I just admitted that to you all.”

While that still sounds far-fetched — the record for most Alpine golds at a single Winter Games is three, shared by three people — Shiffrin has proven to be an all-around talent, as evidenced by her overall World Cup title last season and lead in those standings this season.

But with the super-G and downhill off her schedule, the combined will offer a last opportunity for a second medal in South Korea.

It also will mark the first head-to-head Olympics race between Shiffrin and U.S. teammate Lindsey Vonn, who is 33 and has said this will be her last Winter Games. The combined is an event that adds the times from one downhill run and one slalom run, and as such provides an intriguing matchup between 2010 Vancouver gold medalist Vonn and slalom star Shiffrin.

That will share billing Thursday with the last men’s individual Alpine race, the slalom, which features Marcel Hirscher. The Austrian has already won two golds and will be favored to collect a third.

This is the latest in a series of adjustments to the Alpine schedule because of concerns over fierce winds. It’s the third time during the Pyeongchang Games there will be a doubleheader of sorts, with one men’s race and one women’s race contested on the same day on two courses about 30 miles (50 kilometers) apart.

SOURCE: The Associated Press