Hector strikes giant slalom gold after Shiffrin bombs
February 7, 2022 06:49 PM
Sweden's Sara Hector won the women's Olympic giant slalom on Monday in a race stripped of a showdown with Mikaela Shiffrin after the American slid out in the first leg.
Hector, fastest down on the opening run of two, clocked a combined total of 1min 55.69sec to finish 0.28sec ahead of Italy's Federica Brignone, with current world champion Lara Gut-Behrami of Switzerland rounding out the podium.
"I really tried to push it and give it all I got. It's just amazing," Hector said.
"It's been so much all day. I've been so nervous. It's so much feeling, it's crazy. It's for sure a lot of joy."
Defending champion Shiffrin's bid for a third Olympic gold medal lasted only a handful of gates before she slipped wide and was unable to regain her line.
"The day was finished basically before it even started," the 26-year-old said.
It was a hammer blow for Shiffrin, who also won slalom gold at the 2014 Sochi Games, but the American vowed to quickly refocus on Wednesday's shorter technical event in which she is a four-time world champion.
World Cup slalom standings leader Hector, however, lived up to her own billing as one of the favourites, holding her nerve in a drama-packed second run down the Ice River course that caught out many of the pre-race favourites.
Norway's Thea Louise Stjernesund took a convincing mid-field lead as Slovakia's six-time world championship medallist Petra Vlhova, 13th fastest in the first run, failed to make any impression in the second, with Austria's world bronze medallist Katharina Liensberger also fading.
The race moved into the top 10, starting with a fourth Swiss in the diminutive figure of defending world champion Gut-Behrami.
The 30-year-old made no mistake with the fastest second leg, in 57.24sec, to take the temporary lead.
Two-time former world champion Tessa Worley of France and Nina O'Brien both then crashed, the American leaving on a stretcher sledge.
The waiting top five then had a nervous wait, but Hector held her form magnificently to bring home the gold.
Silver medallist Brignone said she was happy to have improved on her bronze from 2018.
"Before coming here I said if I come back with one medal that would be a great dream for me. Doing it at the first race, it's amazing," she said.
'Not going to cry'
Shiffrin had warned before the race that her performance would have to be "full gas, full precision", but she admitted her start to her Beijing Olympics campaign had been a "huge disappointment".
"I will never get over this," she said. "I've never gotten over any."
She said the Yanqing course was "beautiful yet unforgiving".
"I rarely go out in GS (giant slalom). The easiest thing to say is that I skied a couple of good turns and one turn wrong and I paid the consequences."
A lack of giant slalom training, a back injury and 10 days spent in isolation after contracting Covid-19 before coming to China also hindered her preparations, Shiffrin added.
"I'm not going to cry about this because that's just wasting energy. My best chance for the next races is to move forward, to refocus and I feel like I'm in a good place to do that.
"I don't know about the medals, but I know my skiing is good and I know that even my GS skiing is good... But you just don't know what's going to happen.
"I'm going to do my very best to keep the right mentality and keep pushing, and that's it."