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US Skier Mikaela Shiffrin Makes Olympic History

  • Parke Brewer

Silver medalist Marlies Schild (L) of Austria, bronze medalist Kathrin Zettel (R) of Austria look at gold medalist Mikaela Shiffrin (C) of U.S., during the flower ceremony for the women's alpine skiing slalom event at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics at the Rosa Khutor Alpine Centre, in Russia, Feb. 21, 2014.
U.S. alpine skier Mikaela Shiffrin put herself in the Olympic record book Friday night by winning the women's slalom ski race at the Sochi Winter Games. VOA's Parke Brewer was at the race under the floodlights at Rosa Khutor Alpine Center and has the details.

Last February at age 17, Mikaela Shiffrin became the youngest woman in 39 years to capture an alpine skiing world championship when she won the slalom.​ Now, at age 18, she has become the youngest alpine skier of either gender to win an Olympic slalom gold medal.

Shiffrin led by nearly half a second after the first run down a difficult course that saw 23 of the 85 skiers fail to make it to the second run. Her combined time [1:44.54] was .53 seconds faster than silver medalist Marlies Schild of Austria [1:45.07]. Schild's countrywoman, Kathrin Zettel, won the bronze medal [1:45.35].

Shiffrin said she became quite emotional when she was at the starting gate ready to take her final trip down the course that featured 60 turning gates in a 200-meter vertical drop.

"I started crying a little bit and started tearing up because I was like 'this actually might happen. And I don't know what to think if it does.' And then it did happen, and I don't know what to think. So when it does happen it's hard to put into words how incredible that is," she said.

Shiffrin is already being compared to countrywoman Lindsey Vonn, a four-time overall World Cup champion who did not compete in Sochi because of a knee injury, and Slovenia's Tina Maze, who won gold medals here in both the downhill and giant slalom.

Shiffrin said she hopes to make a name for herself. "It's amazing to be compared to them, and I'm really honored to have that comparison, but I also don't want to be the young Tina Maze or the next Lindsey Vonn. I want to be Mikaela Shiffrin, and hopefully this gold medal is going to prove that," she said.

Shriffin is the world's top ranked slalom skier and she is working hard to become a better giant slalom skier. She placed fifth in that event on Tuesday.

Zettel, who said she had had such high hopes for herself in the giant slalom, but failed to win a medal, was emotional at the finish line after taking the slalom bronze.

"Three days ago my grandmother died, so I was really sad about it. It was horrible. I got a little sick, and I was tired, and everything was hard," said Zettel. "I never thought it could be [I could win a medal] this evening. So this medal means so much to me. It's so wonderful."

Schild said because she was in sixth place after the first run, she looked at her achievement as winning the silver medal and not losing the gold. And she gave Shiffrin the utmost praise.

"She's amazing. She's racing like an athlete that skis [has skied] on the World Cup [circuit] for years. And it's fun to compete against her, but it's also really hard because she's really good in every condition. And she skies really smooth and, yeah, I like to watch her, and I think she really deserves this gold medal today," said Schild.

And with it, the U.S. women's alpine ski team salvages one victory at these Winter Games. The U.S. men also have one gold with Ted Ligety's win Wednesday in the giant slalom. The final alpine event is the men's slalom Saturday.