Women’s Alpine skiing: Maze, Gisin and Shiffrin make Olympic history
Maria Höfl-Riesch opened the women’s Alpine programme with an impressive defence of her super combined title, before Tina Maze and Dominique Gisin shared an Alpine gold for the first time in history in the downhill. Anna Fenninger contributed to a successful Alpine fortnight in Sochi for Austria, topping the podium in the super-G, while Maze doubled her gold account in the giant slalom, before Mikaela Shiffrin provided another historic moment, becoming the youngest ever winner of the women’s slalom.
10 February 2014: Super Höfl-Riesch finds winning combination to claim third career gold
Germany's Maria Höfl-Riesch completed a superb defence of her Olympic super combined title. The 29-year-old, who also won the 2013 world title, overcame a deficit of more than a second after the downhill run to produce a dazzling display in the slalom and post a total time of two minutes 34.62 seconds
She finished ahead of Austria's Nicole Hosp at 0.40 seconds, who claimed her second Olympic silver, and one of the favourites Julia Mancuso (USA) at 0.53, who had led after the downhill. The American’s bronze takes her overall Olympic medal tally to four.
“It was a big fight and it wasn't easy because the snow was tough and bumpy,” said Höfl-Riesch, who now takes her Olympic gold medal tally to three, following combined and slalom wins at Vancouver 2010. “The hill was steep at the start, which I found especially difficult. It didn't feel great, but I skied fast enough. I was able to keep my skis going and didn't break too much in the turns.”
The German joined Croatia’s Janica Kostelic as the only female skier in Olympic history to win back-to-back combined titles. Bronze medal winner Mancuso was delighted to secure another Olympic podium finish. “Winning another medal is just a dream come true," said the American.
Slovenia's Tina Maze, last year's overwhelming World Cup winner, and one of the main favourites for the podium in Sochi, finished just off the podium in fourth. “My slalom wasn't good, I didn't start well, I was trying to find the right feeling and I didn't manage that,” she said. “I'm not as confident as I was last year in the slalom. I'm trying to do something more this season and it's not working out.”
12 February 2014: An Olympic first as Maze and Gisin share downhill gold
There was high drama in the women’s downhill as Swiss outsider Dominique Gisin and Slovenia’s Tina Maze each clocked one minute 41.57 seconds for a dead heat at the top of the leaderboard, meaning that an Alpine skiing gold medal was shared for the first time in Winter Olympics history.
Gisin, without a World Cup downhill race since 2009, was first to post the winning time, which looked sure to be enough for outright victory. But she had not counted on Maze, the 2013 super-G world champion and one of Alpine’s true big-stage performers. Starting 13 places after Gisin, the Slovenian led all the splits but lost a little time after the final jump to come charging through the finish line in a dead heat. Going into Sochi 2014, Maze had endured a relatively poor season by her own standards, however, she had already hinted she might produce something big in the speed event, when she finished third in the downhill component of the super-combined several days earlier.
“I'm extremely happy and completely overwhelmed,” said a tearful Gisin, who ended a 20-year downhill drought for Swiss women stretching back to Sarajevo 1984. “This is incredible. I am overwhelmed with emotions,” added the 28-year-old. “I’m so happy - what a day. I don't think I even dreamt about this. Now that I’ve won, I’m living the dream, but this is better than dreaming.”
30-year-old Maze, who was up on Gisin's time at all four intermediate splits, but then slowed fractionally in the final section, was equally ecstatic, as the two mounted the podium hand-in hand. “I’ve been dreaming about this since I was little. The first ski race I ever won in my life was a downhill, so before I went down the track today I said to myself, ‘This has to be it. I can do it’, and I just went for it.”
With Maze and Gisin sharing gold, it meant that there was no silver medal awarded, leaving Gisin’s compatriot Lara Gut to claim bronze after finishing 0.10 seconds off the lead.
Germany's Maria Höfl-Riesch, the winner of super-combined earlier in the week, had started as pre-race favourite, but she could only finish 13th at 1.17 seconds, while the silver medallist from that event, Nicole Hosp was ninth, at 1.05 seconds. Another of the favourites, the USA’s Julia Mancuso, who had snatched bronze in the super combined thanks to a fastest downhill run, and who won downhill silver at Vancouver 2010, finished eighth at 0.99 seconds.
15 February 2014: Fenninger delivers tactical masterclass to win drama-packed super-G
Austria’s Anna Fenninger claimed gold in the women's super-G after producing a run that showcased all of her tactical acumen and giant slalom skills. Germany's Maria Höfl-Riesch won silver to go with the gold she won in Monday's super-combined, while super combined silver medallist Nicole Hosp of Austria took bronze, a further 0.11 seconds adrift.
Fenninger showed all of her giant slalom skills to clock one minute 25.52 seconds.
“I can't describe my emotions, I am really stunned,” said the 24-year-old. “I didn't think it was going so well while I was going down. I have to give praise to the coach who set the course because you have to be so tactical,” she added. “I was very good up top, not so good at the bottom but in the middle section there was still the possibility to go looking to go faster, as Maria [Höfl-Riesch] showed.”
In brilliant sunshine, a capacity 7,500-strong crowd gathered at Rosa Khutor to watch the super-G, which combines elements of the downhill and the giant slalom, and is decided over a single race. Höfl-Riesch, who crossed the line 0.55 seconds slower than Fenninger, was left ruing missed opportunities after taking the lead on the third split and looking well on course for another gold.
However, she went wide as she flew over the final bump and could not rediscover her rhythm in time through the swinging series of gates to the finish area. “Our coaches told us we had to change a little on the final lip but I hit it too quick and couldn't modify my trajectory,” reflected the 29-year-old German. “I didn't think I was so quick and that I was in the lead through the middle. After that mistake at the bottom, I still find it hard to believe that I'm second. The surprise was even greater than in the combined.”
Slovenia's Tina Maze, joint gold winner in the downhill, finished fifth (+0.76 seconds), just behind downhill bronze medallist Lara Gut (SUI) Switzerland in fourth.
18 February 2014: Marvellous Maze finds Olympic focus to clinch giant slalom
Slovenia's Tina Maze bagged her second Alpine skiing gold of the 2014 Winter Games as she won a thrilling women's giant slalom, just seven hundredths of a second ahead of Austrian arch-rival Anna Fenninger. Meanwhile, the defending champion Viktoria Rebensburg (GER) took bronze, a further 0.20 seconds off the pace.
The 30-year-old Slovenian, who had won joint gold in the downhill with Dominique Gisin (SUI), was clearly not in the mood for sharing again, as she clocked a combined total of two minutes 38.87 seconds over the two runs. She set a blistering pace with the quickest time in the first run, meaning she started last of the top 30 racers for the second descent, and had to look on anxiously as her main rivals took turns to attack her time.
Leading the challenge was Fenninger, who was herself looking for a second gold after winning the super-G. Fourth after the first run, the Austrian then stormed into the lead, which changed hands no less than seven times in a dramatic final run.
By the time Maze launched herself out of the gate, the tension was palpable. Starting with an 0.85 second lead over the Austrian, the Slovene’s deficit was slowly eroded, but she hung on to sneak home by just seven-hundredths of a second. “I can live with that!” said a delighted Maze. “This season I'd focused on the Olympics. I was ready for this, it's what I came here to do. “It was tough for me to keep the same rhythm as last year in the World Cup, but I knew I was going to show my best here, it's great. The rest of the season doesn't matter.”
Despite missing out on gold by such a slender margin, Fenninger was also pleased with her performance. “My second run was really cool,” said the 24-year-old. “After the first run I knew in the start I would have to take a lot of risk and I did and I'm really happy that that was enough for a medal.”
Meanwhile, the 2010 gold medallist Rebensburg was delighted to make the podium again after an indifferent first run left her well down the field. “I can hardly believe it,” she said. “I was quite far down in the first run but I knew I could go looking for a bit more. I'm still not firing on all cylinders but I got a medal and that's essential.”
21 February 2014: Smells like teen spirit, as Shiffrin swoops to slalom gold
Under the floodlights of Rosa Khutor, American teenager Mikaela Shiffrin underlined her billing as the world’s top slalom specialist, displaying nerves of steel to add Olympic gold to her world title. In pole position after the first run, the 18-year-old clocked a combined total of one minute 44.54 seconds to finish 0.53 seconds ahead of Austria’s Marlies Schild, whose silver took her overall Olympic medal tally to four.
Schild’s compatriot Katrin Zettel claimed bronze at 0.81 seconds, denying defending champion Maria Höfl-Riesch a podium finish in what was her Olympic swansong.
“This has been a dream of mine for a very long time,” said Shiffrin, who at the age of 18 years and 345 days became the youngest ever Olympic slalom champion. “I'm so happy to be in this position,” she added. “And I couldn't be happier than to be on the podium with Marlies and Katrin.”
It was a quite remarkable performance from Shiffrin, who won the 2013 world slalom title at the age of just 17, but suffered disappointment earlier at Sochi 2014 after finishing fifth in the giant slalom.
With the top 30 racers from the first run starting the second in reverse order, Shiffrin went off in 30th to ensure a grandstand finish. After watching Höfl-Riesch and third-placed Slovenian Tina Maze lose valuable time in a tight middle section on their second runs, Shiffrin battled down the piste in fearless style. A slight error saw the American briefly go down on the icy snow, but she had such a strong cushion on second-placed Schild, that her lead remained at 0.59 seconds by the second split.
“It was a crazy moment,” Shiffrin said of her near-fall. “I was going very fast and I thought I was not going to make it, it scared me.” Not that it showed. The teenager simply gritted her teeth and came up with a smooth bottom section to nail a fully deserved gold.
At the other end of the age spectrum, second place represented a fantastic result for 32-year-old Schild, who had battled back from a knee injury suffered in December 2012. She became the first female to win a slalom medal at three successive Games, having also won bronze at Turin 2006 and silver at Vancouver 2010.
“I'm pleased to take a medal. I now have four medals in my career, of course not the gold, but I've won so many races… you can’t really complain!” said the Austrian veteran, who was quick to hail the performance of Shiffrin: “You have to say that Mikaela is a sensational skier and she's very quick.”