PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (AP) — With the men’s downhill postponed because of whipping wind Sunday, it’ll be the women — and, notably, U.S. star Mikaela Shiffrin — who get their first chance in more than 30 years to open the Alpine skiing show at the Olympics.
As her mother, Eileen, who also serves as a coach, watched from the bottom of the Yongpyong hill, Shiffrin joined other racers in taking a couple of casual trips down a gateless giant slalom piste during a free ski the day before Monday’s race.
Not since the 1984 Sarajevo Games, when a blizzard led to a rearranged schedule, have the women competed before the men in ski racing at an Olympics.
The 22-year-old Shiffrin is pegged by many as someone who could be a transcendent figure over the next two weeks. She was the slalom gold medalist at the 2014 Sochi Games, where she also finished fifth in the giant slalom, and is considered a top medal contender in both this time around.
Shiffrin, who is based in Colorado, is still more dominant at the slalom — she’s won three consecutive world championships in that event — but does own two World Cup victories in GS this season, in addition to the five in slalom. The status of favorite Monday, though, belongs to France’s Tessa Worley, who has won two of the past three world titles in GS.
So far, Shiffrin has not committed to competing in anything beyond her best two disciplines over the coming two weeks, but she could wind up entering all five women’s individual races.
“I don’t feel pressure from anybody, any external pressure. For me, the expectations come more from myself, which is actually the biggest kind of pressure of all,” Shiffrin said on Saturday. “But, like, I care. I want to medal. I want to medal in multiple disciplines.”
On Sunday, she wore strips of light blue tape on her cheeks and nose to protect against biting wind that dropped the temperature to about 15 degrees Fahrenheit (minus-10 Celsius).
About 30 miles (50 kilometers) away at the downhill race course on Jeongseon hill, gusts reached 45 mph (70 kph) and meant the gondola that ferries athletes, coaches and others to the starting hut could not be used. It’s also considered too dangerous to contest a downhill race — when the skiers can reach 75 mph (125 kph) — if the air is blowing too strongly.
“We kind of expected this downhill to be postponed due to wind, but at the same time the guys were charged up and ready to go,” U.S. men’s head coach Sasha Rearick said. “With this being an outdoor sport, it is not abnormal.”
Officials called off the race about three hours before it was supposed to begin, then later announced they were rescheduling the downhill for Thursday, and shifting the men’s super-G from that day to Friday.
“I applaud the decision. Thanks,” Norway’s Kjetil Jansrud, the downhill bronze medalist four years ago, wrote on Twitter.
With wind expected at the speed events’ site again Monday, a training session for the downhill portion of the men’s combined race was canceled. The combined, which adds times from one downhill and one slalom, is now the first race for the men and remains slated for Tuesday.
AP Sports Writer Graham Dunbar contributed to this report.
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