YONGPYONG, South Korea— Even the GOAT can get sick.
Mikaela Shiffrin, pegged as the overwhelming favorite headed into Friday’s ladies’ slalom, was vomiting just moments before her first run, and turned in a less-than-pristine performance as a result. She finished the day fourth, off the podium and failing to defend her gold from Sochi four years ago, and the talk now turns to whether she was suffering from her well-documented nerves, or whether she’s suffering from a more serious illness.
Sweden’s Frida Hansdotter took gold, Switzerland’s Wendy Holdener silver and Austria’s Katharina Gallhuber the bronze.
NBC reported that Shiffrin was vomiting — sorry if you’re eating while you read this — even as her fellow competitors had already begun skiing. After the run, in a shaky NBC interview, Shiffrin tried to downplay the effects of nerves.
“That was kind of sudden,” she said of the vomiting. “It kind of felt like a virus. Less about nerves.” She added that she’d take her customary nap — she had about four hours between runs — and when she got back on the course, there would be “no holding back.”
The slalom is the most technical of the five alpine sports in the Olympics, a shorter, more demanding, more precise run that carries a penalty of disqualification for even one missed flag. YongPyong’s Rainbow course boasts 61 turning gates and a vertical drop of nearly 670 feet, and the race began under pristine skies and a balmy 37 degrees.
Holdener set the pace in the first run, posting a time of 48.89 right out of the gate. Four skiers later, Shiffrin posted a 49.37, at the time good enough for second. But Swiss skiers Frida Hansdotter and Anna Swenn Larson bested Shiffrin’s initial time, leaving America’s slalom sweetheart in fourth place headed into the second and final run of the day.
Shiffrin had a stellar second run going, at one point nearly a second ahead of the fastest posted time, but a bobble near the middle of her run cost her dearly. If not for the bobble, Shiffrin could have won gold.
Shiffrin came into this race the defending Olympic champion, having posted a take-notice gold medal in Sochi at age 18. She also entered this particular event on a nice recent run, having placed in the top three in 25 of the last 26 World Cup slalom events.
Earlier this week, Shiffrin abandoned her plans to shoot for five gold medals. Her illness, or nerves, on Friday underscored the wisdom of that choice, no matter how much it might disappoint her fans.
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