By Graham Dunbar
KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia: Invoking the sort of recovery skills that Bode Miller made famous, American teenager Mikaela Shiffrin made Alpine skiing history Friday as the youngest winner of an Olympic slalom gold medal.
Schiffrin, 18, showed impressive balance and agility on the Rosa Khotur course, somehow correcting herself in midair and landing her skis back between the gates midway through her second run.
Her speed — and lead from a near-flawless first run — then carried her down the steep hill to win in a two-leg combined time of 1 minute, 44.54 seconds. Despite losing time with her midrun acrobatics, Schiffrin still finished 0.53 seconds faster than Marlies Schild, the Austrian veteran who is one of Shiffrin’s childhood favorites.
“There I was, I’m like, ‘Grrreat. I’m just going to go win my first medal.’ And then in the middle of the run, I’m like, ‘Guess not.’ ” Schiffrin said. “So like, ‘No. Don’t do that. Do not give up. You see this through.’ My whole goal was to just keep my skis moving.”
After she crossed the finish line, Shiffrin hesitated to celebrate. She only seemed sure she had won when Schild and bronze medalist Kathrin Zettel of Austria came across the finish area to raise her arms in triumph.
“Today was one of the most special days of my life,” said Shiffrin, who described her midrun save as “pretty terrifying for me.”
At 32, Schild has now taken a slalom medal at three consecutive Olympics without winning gold.
“The dream died in the first run,” said Schild, who had been only sixth-fastest. “I won the silver medal in the second run and that’s great.”
Zettel trailed 0.81 behind Shiffrin and cried after securing her first Olympic medal after a series of near-misses at the past two Winter Games.
“Mikaela was absolute fantastic skiing, so she was the favorite and she nailed all of us,” Zettel said. “She is the real Olympic champion.”
Shiffrin claimed the record for youngest Olympic slalom champion, male or female, from Paoletta Magoni of Italy, who won gold at the 1984 Sarajevo Games when she was 19.
The Vail, Colo., native completed a full set of slalom honors — Olympic and world championship gold medals and a season-long World Cup discipline title — before her 19th birthday next month.
It so nearly disappeared in a dramatic second of skiing under the night-time floodlights.
“I thought, ‘It’s over,’ ” said Shiffrin’s slalom coach, Roland Pfeifer. “All of a sudden, she overdid it second run and that was brutal. I can’t describe how I felt.”
Shiffrin is the first American woman to get a slalom medal of any color since Barbara Cochran won gold at the 1972 Sapporo Olympics.