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Ramsey: A suddenly blazing Maze stands between Shiffrin and slalom gold

By: David Ramsey, david.ramsey@gazette.com
February 18, 2014 Updated: February 19, 2014 at 6:35 pm
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US Skier Mikaela Shiffrin takes a gate on her way to a fifth place finish in the Olympic Womens' Giant Slalom event Tuesday, February 18, 2014 at the Sochi Olympic Games. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette

SOCHI, Russia – On Sunday, Mikaela Shiffrin said a champion finds a path to victory no matter the circumstance.

She was not talking about Bode Miller, but she might have been. Miller critiques a course  more ruthlessly than he critiques his own performance.

Shiffrin said she will steer clear of explanations/excuses when she fails to emerge as the victor.

On Tuesday, while facing a mix of every terror winter has to offer, Shiffrin negotiated a less-than-ideal giant slalom course well enough to finish fifth. It was an impressive Olympic debut.

It was not what she wanted.

“I wanted gold,” Shiffrin said.

She will have her chance at gold soon. On Friday, Shiffrin will compete in the slalom, and she’s the overwhelming favorite. She’s also the reigning world champion.

It was, no doubt, an ugly morning and afternoon in the mountains. Driving rain turned to snow. Fog rolled in, and toward the end of the competition sleet arrived. Mother Nature revealed much of her diverse, dangerous power.

Shiffrin, 18, spends hours envisioning her performance in a competition. She goes through every twist and turn. She is obsessive about detail.

The fog and the snow and the sleet and the rain must have troubled her tremendously, right?

No, Shiffrin said.

She insisted she could see the course more clearly than she expected. She offered no excuses/explanations, and she has already devised her plan for Friday’s slalom.

“Ski faster,” she said with a smile.

Shiffrin has never won a World Cup giant slalom competition. She has twice placed in World Cup competition, but she was not a favorite to medal in the giant slalom.

Tina Maze of Slovenia won gold, and afterward she talked as if the wild weather mix had been her friend.

“The weather is playing games with us,” Maze said, “but I love it when it works out fine. I don’t care if it’s rainy or sunny as long as it’s possible to ski well.”

Maze relaxed between her two runs by watching the Slovenian men’s hockey team, which has enjoyed surprising success. Slovenia defeated Austria Tuesday to earn a place in Wednesday’s quarterfinals vs. Sweden.

“The guys were playing so well,” Maze said of her countrymen. “They just gave me a will to show so much more.”

Maze should offer formidable competition for Shiffrin in Friday’s slalom. Maze arrived at Sochi in a slump after recent struggles, but there’s no doubt her slump has ended. She’s earned two golds along with a fourth-place and fifth-place finish.

Maze will try to follow the example of her friends on the Slovenian hockey team.

She seeks an upset in the slalom.

Twitter: @davidramz

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