Tina Maze wins giant slalom
KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia -- Tina Maze skied through rain and snow to win Olympic gold, and then swam through slush to celebrate.
In tough conditions on the slopes above Sochi, Maze won her second gold medal of the 2014 Games by leading the giant slalom from start to finish.
Drehs: Shiffrin Handles Debut With Ease
What the U.S. team accomplished in Tuesday's giant slalom will largely go unnoticed, but it may very well be one of its most important moments of the Games. Its 18-year-old prodigy, Mikaela Shiffrin, handled her Olympic debut with unflappable ease, writes Wayne Drehs. Story
The Slovenian skier is the first woman since Marie-Theres Nadig of Switzerland at the 1972 Sapporo Games with enough versatility to master the downhill's test of pure speed and the giant slalom's more technical turns at the same Olympics.
Wearing bib No. 1, Maze skied cautiously and cleanly through the gates to finish 0.07 seconds ahead of Anna Fenninger of Austria.
Maze celebrated by belly-flopping onto the wet snow and pretending to swim the breaststroke.
Defending champion Viktoria Rebensburg of Germany was third, trailing 0.27 behind Maze's two-run time of 2 minutes, 36.87 seconds.
American teenager Mikaela Shiffrin placed fifth in her Olympic debut, missing a medal by just 0.23 seconds.
"Next Olympics I go to, I'm sure as heck not getting fifth," said Shiffrin.
Her goal was gold Tuesday. But under difficult conditions the 18-year-old gained some valuable experience that could pay off when she goes off as the favorite Friday in the slalom.
"I wanted a gold, but I also think this was meant to happen," she said. "It's something I will learn from the next Olympics I go to I'm sure."
The closest thing to a replacement for the U.S. in the Olympics for the injured Lindsey Vonn, Shiffrin had a chance to boost the flagging hopes of the country's ski team by snatching a medal in her Olympic debut.
"It's amazing to be at my first Olympics and have that first race out of the way," said Shiffrin, who finished fifth. "That was also a very cool race to be a part of, especially with the top three girls, they really raced well."
Shiffrin raced well herself, bettering her time in the second run as snow alternated with rain. But a couple of mistakes on turns cost her valuable tenths of a second in the middle of the second run and she couldn't make them up.
Shiffrin was in second place as she crossed the finish line, but there were four other skiers with first run times better than her who were yet to ski. It became a numbers game that Shiffrin quickly lost.
"I tried to race from the very start to the very finish," she said. "I think it was a pretty fair race and I'm just really in awe of the top three girls."
Shiffrin, who first raced in the World Cup at the age of 15 and is the reigning slalom champion, is still an overwhelming favorite to win a gold medal on Friday. She had never won a World Cup giant slalom, though she has been on the podium twice in the race on the World Cup circuit this year and was given an outside chance at picking up a medal in this race.
Shiffrin said she believes she wasn't going to win her first World Cup slalom race until she was ready, and feels the same way about the giant slalom. Her time will come in the race, she said, but this wasn't it.
"I was really thinking my first giant slalom win would be at the Olympics and that would be really cool to accomplish," she said. "It's just something I accept. I got fifth today and there are four girls that did better than me and I'm really excited to analyze their skiing and try to analyze mine."
The 30-year-old Maze added giant slalom gold in the rain to the tie for victory in a sunbathed downhill last week. She also won giant slalom silver at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
Maze led the first run by 0.52 seconds. Jessica Lindell-Vikarby of Sweden had been in second place, but she faded down to place seventh.
Maze began the second run with a 0.85-second advantage over Fenninger, the super-G winner, but gave much of it away in a cautious run down the steep and slushy final slope.
After Maze crossed the line, a further 44 lower-ranked skiers still had their second run. They included pop-classical violinist Vanessa-Mae, who raced for Thailand as Vanessa Vanakorn. She was the slowest of 74 first-run finishers, then slowest again in the afternoon by more than seven seconds.
She ended up 50.10 seconds behind Maze.
One absentee in the original 90-racer lineup was Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany, who skipped her weakest event because of a cold and breathing problems.
Hoefl-Riesch, the super-combined champion and super-G silver medalist, went to the course to warm up Tuesday but chose not to race. She is expected to defend her slalom title on Friday and challenge for a record-equaling fourth career Olympic gold in women's Alpine skiing.
Julia Mancuso, GS champion at the 2006 Turin Olympics, skied out midway down the last slope in her final event. Mancuso, who won her medal in super-combined, wrote on her Twitter account:
That's a wrap for me here in Sochi. It's been inspiring! Thanks for all the support and Love! #GoUSA!!! Now I get to celebrate my Bronze!!!- Julia Mancuso (@JuliaMancuso) February 18, 2014
Maze has been the most consistent women's skier at the Sochi Games. Mancuso edged her off the super-combined podium by just 0.10 seconds and she was fifth in super-G.
Her victory Tuesday recaptured her standout form in GS last season when she had top-three finishes in all 10 races, including a silver medal at the world championships.
Maze's joyous celebration reflected how the tension in her skiing has lifted at the Olympics. In an often-frustrating season, she has won only one World Cup race while struggling to follow her record-setting 2013 season.
Rebensburg matched her best result since the opening race of a season in which she was sidelined for several weeks by bronchitis. She glided through the finish area on just her right ski, pumping both fists when seeing her time.
Driving snow and sleet delayed the second run for nearly 15 minutes from its scheduled 1 p.m. start, though it slowed to a drizzle when the medal contenders raced.
Course workers scattered salt to firm the snow surface, which was already softened by days of sunshine.
The first run was completed in the morning despite persistent rain on lower sections and the first snowfall at the Sochi Olympics higher up.
Racers struggled to carve clean turns as their skis pushed the soft snow aside.
"It's like skiing on sugar," sixth-place finisher Maria Pietilae-Holmner of Sweden said after the first run. "It's hard to ski the way you want to ski."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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