History beckons for Alpine stars as Shiffrin and Hoefl-Riesch head a super strong slalom field
The evening of 21 February will see the world’s best female slalom specialists converge on a floodlit Rosa Khutor for the last major Alpine challenge of Sochi 2014.
Among the hot favourites, will be the USA’s teenager Mikaela Shiffrin. Despite finishing just fifth in the giant slalom, her technical style is better suited to the more technical challenge of the slalom and despite being just 18, has been a major force in the discipline since claiming the world title in Schladming (AUT) in 2013.
She has carried on that form this season, with three slalom victories and a second place on the World Cup circuit, leaving her on top the standings going into Sochi.
That has put her ahead of Sweden's Frida Hansdotter, Austrian Marlies Schild, Canadian Marie-Michele Gagnon and overall leader Maria Höfl-Riesch of Germany, all of whom will be vying for the gold in Rosa Khutor.
And the American says that the disappointment of finishing off the podium in the giant slalom has left her even more determined to claim top spot in her favourite event.
“I wanted a gold, but I think this was meant to happen,” she said. “I was really thinking that my first giant slalom win would be at the Olympics, and that would be such a cool thing to accomplish.
“It's just something that I accept. I got fifth, and there were four girls who skied better than I did,” she added.
Höfl-Riesch, who sat out the giant slalom, which was won by Slovenia's Tina Maze, will be looking to add to the gold she won in the super combined and silver in the super-G. And Shiffrin knows that the German will present a major threat.
“Maria's one of those athletes I think is a true champion because she's been able to perform across the board, in the World Cup, the world championships and the Olympics. It's really cool to see,” said the American of her rival.
“She's a real competitor and she's going to be a great competitor in the slalom as well as many other girls who've been pushing me, and I hope I'll push them.”
Germany coach Thomas Stauffer believes Höfl-Riesch has a good chance to double her Sochi 2014 gold tally, but points out that the field in the event is exceptionally strong.
“She's a favourite in each discipline, but you never know what will happen on the course,” said Stauffer. “Everything can happen. There's always a bigger number of favourites than we think.”
One of those will, of course, be Tina Maze, who has already reminded the world of her credentials in Sochi by claiming double gold in the downhill and the giant slalom.
The Slovene now seems to be touching the form that made her the queen of all five disciplines during the 2012-2013 season, which included three World Cup victories in the slalom.
Meanwhile, Marlies Schild, who won slalom silver behind Höfl-Riesch at the 2010 Vancouver Games and was 2011 world champion, will head up a strong Austrian quartet that includes her younger sister Bernadette, Michaela Kirchgasser, who won silver at the latest world championships, and Kathrin Zettel.
The two Schild sisters, led by Marlies, both finished on the podium behind Hansdotter in the final World Cup slalom before Sochi.
Should the older Schild sister finish on the podium, she will become the first female skier to win an Olympic slalom medal at three successive editions of the Winter Games, having also won bronze at the Turin 2006.