The 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi has featured more ups and downs for the United States alpine skiing team than the very skiing courses that it competes on.
After winning an American-high eight medals in the 2010 Games in Vancouver, the team only captured one of the first 15 medals given out in Sochi. Sure, missing superstar Lindsey Vonn because of an injury was a blow, but that only explained some of the early struggles.
What a difference two gold medals can make.
Ted Ligety took home the gold medal in the men’s giant slalom and teenager Mikaela Shiffrin won the women’s slalom to give the United States its first two golds in the alpine skiing events. As a whole, the Red, White and Blue has five alpine medals, which is tied for second-best with the 1984 team.
Ligety was absolutely dominant in the giant slalom, separating himself from silver medalist Steve Missillier of France by .48 seconds and bronze medalist Alexis Pinturault of France by .64 seconds. Teammate Bode Miller discussed Ligety’s performance in comments that were passed along by Alan Abrahamson of NBCOlympics.com:
He carries so much speed and just doesn’t really make mistakes. Those are the things that separate him.
Other guys carry speed for a couple turns. They struggle a little bit. He just carries it smooth, top to bottom. He consistently puts time on guys the whole way down. He’s not doing a miracle in one section. He just pulls time on top, pulls more time in the middle, pulls more time on the bottom. There’s no question who is the best GS skier right now.
With his gold, Ligety became the first man in the history of the Winter Olympics to win the gold in giant slalom and the combined, which he captured in the 2006 Olympics in Torino.
Ligety may not be the first name you think of when listing dominant Winter Olympians, but he has to be included in the discussion with that distinction.
On the women’s side of things, Shiffrin made skiing history by becoming the youngest person to ever win an Olympic slalom gold medal.
NBC Sports captured her in action:
Shiffrin’s dominance in her first run carried her to victory, although she almost fell on the second run when she briefly lost her balance before recovering it in impressive fashion. She shared her mindset during that fleeting moment with reporters in comments that were passed along by CBS News:
Yeah, that was pretty terrifying for me. There I was, I'm like Grreat. I'm just going to go win my first medal. And then in the middle of the run, I'm like Guess not. 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.
She finished .53 seconds ahead of Marlies Schild of Austria, who captured the silver.
Shiffrin completed a slalom season that included gold medals at the Olympics and the world championship as well as a season-long World Cup title, which is incredible considering she is still 18 years old.
Looking ahead, it will be interesting to see if this Olympic gold medal propels Shiffrin to a legendary type of career like the one Vonn has enjoyed. She will only be 22 at the next Games, and another gold medal is certainly in the realm of possibilities.
Multiple Olympic championships is the surest way to ensure yours status as an all-time great in alpine skiing.
Alas, she gets to enjoy her golden moment in Sochi after an incredible performance.
In the process, she helped salvage the 2014 Olympics for the American alpine team.
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