Shiffrin relaxed, fast and focused on Olympic combined event
By GRAHAM DUNBAR, AP Sports Writer
JEONGSEON, South Korea (AP) — Relaxed, fast and excited.
It was a good day for Mikaela Shiffrin on the Olympic downhill course Tuesday.
Shiffrin will no longer start in the downhill medal race on Wednesday, choosing to focus on the following day’s Alpine combined event that was moved up in the wind-buffeted schedule.
That decision, taken late Monday, cleared her mind enough to post a fast run in the third and final practice.
Any regrets about skipping the Olympic downhill?
“Not so much. To be honest, a little bit of relief,” Shiffrin said after clocking the fifth-fastest time in Tuesday’s practice. “That run today was much more what I was looking for as far as being relaxed goes.”
Shiffrin said her practices on the previous two days were tense and conservative, and she was “struggling to find my timing a little bit, struggling to find an aerodynamic position.”
Then came a forecast of strong winds for Friday, forcing organizers to condense the program with more back-to-back race days. The same winds already eliminated all off-days between Shiffrin’s races last week. She was only fourth as an overwhelming favorite in slalom after taking gold in giant slalom.
“Having the Alpine combined move forward was actually a relief to me,” the 22-year-old American said. “Today I put something together (in training) that I’m really excited about. I was able to push it a little more.”
Still, she said she would have raced the downhill if there was still a day off before the combined as scheduled.
“But I didn’t want to be taking spots (in downhill) from our girls who are all potentially a threat for top five (and) medal positions,” Shiffrin said.
Instead, Shiffrin planned to spend the afternoon training for the slalom run in combined, and “have more of a rest day” on Wednesday.
Shiffrin is a strong contender in combined, which typically rewards slalom specialists over speed racers. The best men’s slalom skier, Marcel Hirscher, won the men’s Olympic combined title at the Pyeongchang Games.
Unlike Shiffrin, most top downhill racers don’t have time for serious slalom training — not on the World Cup circuit and certainly not at the Olympics where their top medal target is on Wednesday.
The Swiss team said there would be no slalom training Tuesday for Lara Gut. One year ago at the world championships, Gut severely injured her right knee crashing in slalom warm-ups after the downhill run in combined.
Lindsey Vonn said she had no intention skiing any slalom gates that would risk her chance in downhill on Wednesday.
“Hell, no,” she said Tuesday, explaining how skiing slalom could “make my knees sore” and burn unnecessary energy.
“I feel like I’m playing Russian roulette,” Vonn said of the combined event. “If everything lands perfectly I could potentially get a medal. It’s not worth it for me to be training slalom because I’m not good enough at it to really make an improvement in training.”
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