BEIJING: US ski star Mikaela Shiffrin’s Beijing Olympics threatened to turn into a winter nightmare but there was long-awaited redemption for snowboarder Lindsey Jacobellis as she won Team USA’s first gold of the Games on Wednesday.
Six gold medals were up for grabs on the fifth day of full competition in the Chinese capital, but Shiffrin’s wait goes on in her faltering pursuit of a career third Olympic gold in alpine skiing.
The 26-year-old made a shock early exit from the giant slalom on Monday and with the pressure on, suffered the same fate in the slalom, with rival Petra Vlhova of Slovakia taking full advantage.
Vlhova produced a stunning second leg to clock a combined total of 1min 44.98sec over the two runs and edge Austria’s reigning world champion Katharina Liensberger into silver by eight-hundredths of a second.
In stark contrast, Shiffrin slid wide after just a handful of gates before skiing out in the first leg, then plonked herself down on the snow, head in hands.
The American said she felt “pretty awful,” although added: “But it won’t feel awful for ever. I just feel pretty low right now.”
Shiffrin will compete in three more individual events in Beijing, with the super-G on Friday, followed by the downhill on Tuesday and alpine combined on February 17.
Snowboard cross rider Jacobellis said her infamous fall that cost her the Olympic title in 2006 had “kept her hungry” as she finally got the United States on the gold-medal board.
Jacobellis was comfortably in the lead in the final at the 2006 Turin Olympics when she attempted to “style out” her last jump — and fell just before the finish line, coming second.
“(People) can keep talking about (2006) all they want because it really shaped me into the individual that I am and kept me hungry and really helped me keep fighting in the sport,” said the 36-year-old.
Another American snowboarder, Chloe Kim, qualified top in the halfpipe after a scintillating first run but then suffered a fall in her second.
Along with Shiffrin, the 21-year-old Kim — who made worldwide headlines when she won snowboard gold as a teenager at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games — is one of the stars to watch at this Olympics.
“Well, I fell so it wasn’t great,” she said of her failed second run which left her sprawled on her stomach as she attempted to land from a trick.
She said her first run had gone so well “that honestly for the second I just wanted to try a different line, I’ve never practised it before so I’m not surprised that I fell.
“But just having so much fun out here ... I can’t ask for anything more, just enjoying the ride.”
Also in snowboard action, but at the other end of his career to Kim, was 35-year-old Shaun White.
The three-time Olympic champion — who is twice the age of some of his rivals — will retire from competition after Beijing and is determined to go out with a bang.
But he looked more likely to go out in a whimper when he fell in his first run in the halfpipe, before pulling out a far better second effort to reach the final in an ultimately comfortable fourth place.
White admitted he had been worried.
“I knew I could do it, I was just like ‘what if?’ What if I slip or something happens — I hit a snow chunk and it’s over. That’s the big fear, the unforeseen,” said the American.
In freestyle skiing, Birk Ruud enjoyed a dominant victory in Big Air — and was so comfortable that he performed his third jump holding the Norwegian flag.
He also wore a gold bracelet on his left wrist in tribute to his father, who died of cancer last April.
“I got this from my father before he passed away,” said Ruud.
“I wanted to say ‘thank you’ to him, he’s with me,” he added, touching the bracelet.
Separately, the International Olympic Committee said the medals ceremony for the team figure skating has been delayed by a legal issue.
The Russian team won the gold medal with the US taking silver and Japan bronze, but the ceremony was removed from its scheduled slot on Tuesday. IOC spokesman Mark Adams cited a “legal consultation” with the sport’s governing body, the International Skating Union, without giving further details.