Day 14 of the 2014 Winter Olympics delivers the ladies' slalom in Alpine skiing as the sport's final event for the women. There are crucial differences between the different downhill events, but slalom is the shortest and slowest race. There are many gates close together and the event requires painstaking precision throughout the run, so a momentary lapse in concentration will dash Olympic dreams.
We preview this ruthless Alpine event and break down everything you need to know, including viewing information and all of the top favorites for a medal.
When: Friday, Feb. 21, 7:45 a.m. ET
Where: Rosa Khutor Alpine Resort, Krasnaya Polyana, Russia (approximately 40 miles from Sochi)
Watch: NBC Primetime, 8-11 p.m. ET
American Julia Mancuso claimed first in the downhill portion of the ladies' super combined, but German Maria Hoefl-Riesch stormed back in the slalom element to claim gold and bump Mancuso to third. Hoefl-Riesch also won silver in the super-G (super-giant slalom, a longer and faster course than giant slalom).
Mancuso's teammate Mikaela Shiffrin is just 18 years old, but she is considered the favorite to win gold in slalom. She took first place in slalom at the 2013 world championships in Schladming, Austria, and this is the best event for the youngster from Vail, Colo.
As noted by Howard Fendrich of the Associated Press (via ABC), Shiffrin has utterly dominated the field in slalom as of late:
After a fifth-place finish in the giant slalom, the American gets to race Friday in her specialty, the slalom, which she has ruled for the past two years, including a world championship and World Cup title. She's won eight of the past 18 slaloms; no one else has won more than two in that span.
Moreover, after finishing fifth in the giant slalom at Sochi, Shiffrin sounded very motivated by the somewhat disappointing result. According to Bill Pennington of the New York Times, Shiffrin spoke at the post-race area and was already looking toward the next event and the next Olympics for giant slalom as well:
This is something I’ll learn from, and the next Olympics I go to, I’m sure as heck not getting fifth...There were four girls who skied better than I did, and I’m really excited to analyze their skiing and analyze mine. It’s good to get the first Olympic race out of the way and focus on the next one.
The 18-year-old Shiffrin seems as focused as she is confident, and the rest of the field should be very worried.
Austrian Anna Fenninger has looked great so far, winning gold in the super-G and silver in giant slalom, but she is not competing in the slalom. That will be left to her countrywoman Nicole Hosp, who also has a pair of medals from Sochi, with a silver in super combined and a bronze in super-G.
However, Tina Maze of Slovenia is seeking her third gold of the Games after finishing first in the downhill and giant slalom, so there is plenty of talent in the field for Shiffrin to contend with.
According to Oddschecker, Shiffrin is the clear favorite to win with 6-4 odds, ahead of Austrian Marlies Schild at 3-1 and Swede Frida Hansdotter, who is a 7-1 shot. However, gold-medal winners Maze and Hoefl-Riesch trail just behind at 15-2 and 8-1, respectively.
Whoever claims gold, it seems assured that Shiffrin has a storied career in Alpine skiing ahead of her. At just 18, she is more than a decade younger than her top four challengers for gold in slalom.
Shiffrin is already planning out her next Olympics, but draping a gold around her neck in Sochi would set up a very propitious career indeed.