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It had been a long time since a ninth-place finish had seemed like a triumph for Mikaela Shiffrin, but there she was, in the super-G finish area on Friday afternoon, talking as if she had truly won something.
After failing to get through more than 12 gates and failing to finish his opening races in two of his best events this week. Shiffrin skied a clean and efficient run in the super-G, a sprint she did not compete in at the Olympics, and crossed the finish line, finishing 0.79 seconds behind the gold medalist Lara Gut-Behrami, from Switzerland.
Mirjam Puchner of Austria won the silver medal. Michelle Gisin of Switzerland won the bronze medal.
“I didn’t think there was a very good chance of winning or even winning a medal in this race,” she said. “I just skied hard, and it’s really a big relief to be here now at the finish after skiing well on a descent.”
For Shiffrin, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, this has been by far the most grueling major ski competition of her career. She came to the Olympics expecting to compete for up to five medals and was a strong favorite in slalom races.
After three races, she has only crossed one finish line, although she still has a chance to make the end of her Olympics much better than the start, with the downhill, combined event and even the team competition still on the program next week. .
The task of recovering from his astonishing disappointments in slalom and giant slalom propelled Shiffrin into uncharted territory. She’s had a mostly enchanted career, even so far from the mountains she had to mourn the sudden death of her father two years ago.
As she slept Thursday night, she said, she kept having a recurring dream in which she was skiing the race and kept collapsing at the fifth gate. It was no different from the dreams she had after the 2018 Olympics, when she finished fourth in the slalom and dreamed of terrible things happening to her as she skied over and over again.
“After last week, there was a lot of emotional fatigue,” she said. “I’m feeling emotionally distrustful right now, definitely a bored feeling, and you can’t have that race, especially not race speed.”
But the day dawned, and Shiffrin felt renewed enough to ski the first part of the course hard and fast. Shiffrin led Gut-Behrami by a split second earlier. But halfway through the course, she took a wide, safe line around a banked right-hander, costing her precious tenths of a second.
She also slipped slightly and momentarily lost her balance before recovering and heading to the finish, where she smiled broadly showing off her bright white gumshield. Her goal had been to ski the course properly and hard and that’s exactly what she had done.
Within minutes she was kissed by her mother and coach, Eileen, and hugged by her boyfriend Aleksander Aamondt Kilde, who won his second Olympic medal on Thursday with a silver in the men’s alpine combined.
She says she was inundated with messages of support this week, which caught her off guard, adding another element of duality to an entirely new experience for her. “It’s possible to feel both proud of a career and sad about the moment you’re in,” she said.
Not on Friday, however. Friday did not feel sad. It felt like solid skiing, “on point,” as Shiffrin said, although what happened in those first two races will always be there and maybe even come back to those dreams.
“Failure is a scary word,” she said. “I finally accepted it as part of what we do here.”
Then she left to train for the downhill.