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US superstar Mikaela Shiffrin wins giant slalom gold

PYEONGCHANG, SOUTH KOREA - FEBRUARY 15: Mikaela Shiffrin #7 of the United States celebrates at the presentation after winning the gold medal in the Alpine Skiing - Ladies' Giant Slalom competition at Yongpyong Alpine Centre on February 15, 2018 in PyeongChang, South Korea. (Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)

For Mikaela Shiffrin, it was worth the wait.

The American’s quest for Olympic glory finally got under way after days of weather delays and the 22-year-old did as was expected, winning gold in the women’s giant slalom with ease.

Second going into the final run, Shiffrin raced brilliantly to finish ahead of Norwegian Ragnhild Mowinckel in second and Italian Federica Brignone in third.

Shiffrin, the defending Olympic slalom champion, becomes only the third American Alpine skier to win two Olympic golds, joining Andrea Mead-Lawrence and Ted Ligety.

“It’s not really relief,” Shiffrin told reporters. “It was an amazing feeling. My best effort is good enough and I have an Olympic gold.

“The second run, I loved how the course looked and I just thought ‘I’ve got to go.’ Everybody’s skiing to win and it left me no choice but to do the same.

“This morning I woke up and didn’t feel particularly nervous. I was able to eat my breakfast, which normally on race day I am not able to do. I had moments when I was nervous, I had moments when I felt pressure. At the starting gate I thought ‘just go for it.'”

Going for five?

Hailed a “phenom” even before winning her first Winter Olympic gold as an 18-year-old in Sochi, Shriffin is aiming for multiple golds in Pyeongchang.

She’s expected to contest all five Alpine events at these Games, but even before the Olympics started she was a favorite in two other events besides the giant slalom: the slalom and Alpine combined.

The rescheduling of multiple events because of high winds earlier in the week has complicated matters for the three-time world champion.

If she is to become the first Alpine skier to win more than three gold medals in one Olympics, Shiffrin now faces a jam-packed schedule with the remaining women’s Alpine events crammed into nine days.

The American will compete again Friday, in the slalom, with the super-G Saturday. The downhill is on Wednesday, February 21 and two days’ later is the combined. There is also the prospect of a team event on the final Saturday of the Games.

“It’s mentally taxing,” admitted Shiffrin. “By the end of these couple of weeks I’m going to feel that, even if we had these first two races go the way they should.

“It’s mentally challenging to get excited for a race and then have it canceled. It’s not easy.”

In an attempt to ease the pressure of expectation, Shiffrin told reporters she had not been on social media for a couple of weeks.

“I don’t think anybody puts as big an expectations on me as I do myself,” she said.

“I’ve not been on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook for two weeks. If I want to post something I tell my agent this is what I want to say.

“I haven’t been looking at what people are saying or watching. I’ve really been away from that a bit and that helps a lot because if I don’t see it I don’t know what people are saying.”

Cheerleaders in full voice

During the first run, Shriffin wasn’t the only competitor attracting attention at the Yongpyong Alpine Center.

North Korea’s all-female cheerleading squad, dressed in matching red snowsuits and bobble hats, were in full voice to support North Korea’s entry, 25-year-old Kim Ryon Hyang, who finished last.

Joining the squad in their singing and chants was a group of about 50 unification supporters wearing hoodies with a silhouette of a unified Korean peninsula.

The unification group, mainly young people who are from various cities in South Korea, had learned that the cheerleaders would be present through local media and decided to attend the event.

Huh Jung-bin, 22, from Busan, South Korea’s second-most populous city, said they were at the Alpine Center to support the cheerleaders and unification of the North and South, two countries still technically at war.

Throughout the competition, the two groups, sitting in separate sections, sang in unison, and waved flags of unified Korea which have been so familiar at these Games.