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U.S. alpine skiing star Mikaela Shiffrin falters again at the Beijing Olympics


For Mikaela Shiffrin, the Winter Olympics are off to a disappointing start. The U.S. Alpine skiing star, winner of three Olympic medals, considered one of the greatest in her sport, started two races and didn't make it through the first run of either of them. Today at the Beijing Games, Shiffrin skied off the slalom course just seconds after she began. The quick-turning slalom is her best event. She's won more slalom races than any World Cup skier, woman or man, in history.

Earlier this morning, I talked to NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman in Beijing.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Let me tell you first what happened, Rachel. She was the seventh racer to start the first of two slalom runs. And just five seconds in, her skis slipped on a turn. She couldn't recover. She skied off the course and then went over and sat down near protective netting on the side, put her head down. And she was there for many minutes while other racers skied by. It was a - kind of a painful image. Talking to reporters, she was both disappointed. She said, it's a letdown of everything - letting down myself, letting down other people. And she sounded a bit defiant, too, saying, quote, "I didn't finish in the Olympics. Come on. That hurts. But in 24 hours, nobody is going to care. Well, maybe it will take a little longer," end quote. Now, she says she will try to reset and prepare for three more events. But she knows she missed the chance to win another medal in her two best races - slalom and giant slalom.

I want to add one thing here - a reminder. She wasn't the only woman racing today - and a tip of the ski helmet to Slovakia's Petra Vlhova, probably Shiffrin's main rival. They're the same age. And Vlhova has spent years finishing behind Shiffrin. Today she won a gold medal in the slalom.

MARTIN: So is Shiffrin saying why this happened, why she had these two flameouts?

GOLDMAN: You know, she's explaining it in skiing terms. With the slalom today, she said she wanted to take a really aggressive line, meaning more straight down the hill. And that left little room for correction if there was a bobble. And there was. And she couldn't recover. And so she skied off the course. Bigger reasons - you know, Rachel, here we get into the possible mental aspect - something very familiar after what happened to gymnast Simone Biles at the Summer Olympics last year. Shiffrin, like Biles and other Olympic stars, has talked about the pressure for those Olympians who were featured on magazine covers and talked about as medal contenders. Interestingly, she said pressure wasn't the big issue today. There were nerves. But she also said the - you know, she had the feeling she always has, that good skiing will be there for her.

MARTIN: There is some good news, though, today on the medal front for Team USA, right?

GOLDMAN: There is (laughter) good news - a first gold medal for the U.S. from the sport of snowboard cross. Now, over the last eight Winter Olympics, it's taken the U.S. on average 1.75 days - I did the math, Rachel - to win a first gold.


GOLDMAN: This time it took five days. And we were wondering whether this was reflective of some troubling shift in the world order.


GOLDMAN: And Lindsey Jacobellis restored order in the snowboard cross, where four snowboarders leave the gate at the same time, shoulder to shoulder. First one to the bottom wins. So congrats to her winning her first gold in her fifth Olympics. And at 36, she's the oldest American woman to win a Winter Olympics gold medal.

MARTIN: Ah, that's very cool. And all is well in the world.

GOLDMAN: (Laughter).

MARTIN: NPR's Tom Goldman in Beijing.

Thank you, Tom.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on NPR.org.