KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – Mikaela Shiffrin’s first Olympic title also may have signaled the last Olympic races for the world’s two best all-around skiers.
Maria Hoefl-Riesch and Tina Maze, who have four Olympic medals each, said the slalom Friday night was their Olympic farewell.
Shiffrin wants to add speed racing in the next year or two, certainly before 2018, which could make the Sochi slalom a changing-of-the-guard event. (Lindsey Vonn may also have a say during this transition period.)
Hoefl-Riesch finished fourth and Maze was eighth in the slalom, the first time at these Winter Games that a women’s Alpine podium did not include either of the skiers. Hoefl-Riesch couldn’t stay on the podium, nor successfully defend her 2010 slalom title, after being second to Shiffrin in the first slalom run.
In the second run, Hoefl-Riesch skied into third and was bumped to fourth by the American, .38 seconds from her fifth career Olympic medal. Still, she finished her second Olympics with two medals, gold in the super combined and silver in the super-G.
“I can go home really happily,” said Hoefl-Riesch, who skipped Tuesday’s giant slalom Tuesday. “Today, fourth place is a little bit sad. That’s sports. The others were better today. You have to accept that. It was not a bad race for me.”
Maze was looking to become the first skier to place in the top five of all five events at one Olympics. Eighth place did not sit well with the bold woman who has a hit single with more than 700,000 views across YouTube videos.
“That’s my last one [career Olympic race],” said Maze, who won the giant slalom and tied for gold in the downhill in her fourth Olympics. “It feels terrible, finishing eighth. I was fighting. It didn’t work out. Two golds is more than I expected. Right now I feel a little down.”
She’ll have to settle for being the third skier to finish in the top 10 of all five events at one Olympics.
The most decorated Olympic Alpine skier of all time – Norway’s Kjetil Andre Aamodt – and Hoefl-Riesch, who did it in 2010.
Hoefl-Riesch and Maze may never ski in an Olympics again, but they will be rivals the rest of the World Cup season. Maze is returning to the form that saw her post the greatest World Cup season by a man or woman in 2012-13.
She is in fifth place overall this season, 325 points behind the leader Hoefl-Riesch with nine races to go. It’s a healthy deficit but not insurmountable.
“Maria had a really good start of the season,” Maze said. “I had a pretty bad start. I hope I can catch her, for sure.”
Hoefl-Riesch, the 2012 World Cup overall champion, wasn’t taking Maze lightly.
“It will be a tough fight in the overall World Cup because Tina is back in shape now,” she said. “She is a little bit behind, but she can make that up for sure.”
Hoefl-Riesch, 29, said this could be her last World Cup season. She hopes to decide for sure before the final races in mid-March.
“Maybe even one more year is too much,” she said. “I’m doing this since I’m 16. I’m doing every single race since I’m 18 or 19. This is so intense. Over the years, I feel that my body is not making it so well anymore. I’m still having fun, still lots of fun for me to do every discipline. Sometimes I feel tired, and that’s so hard to motivate for another year. It’s not only the skiing in the winter, but it’s all the work in the summer. It’s so tough and so complicated when you’re doing all events.”
Vonn, 29, wants to return next season. It’s unclear if she’ll pick up the technical events, giant slalom and slalom.
Three months before she ruled herself out of the Olympics, Vonn said that she wouldn’t ski slalom in Sochi. She also said she might not ski any giant slalom this season, before she announced she needed another knee surgery and abandoned her year after four speed races.
Shiffrin, 18, is on the way in for the overall picture in the next Olympic cycle.
She has never raced a World Cup speed event, but she has trained super-G and thought a lot about when she’ll add it to her repertoire.
The Vail native is taking a calculated approach.
“I’m still not quite where I want to be with [giant slalom], at this point in the season,” said Shiffrin, who was fifth in the Olympic giant slalom. “I mean, I’ve definitely improved a lot, but my goal is really to get my slalom and GS dialed in before I move to speed, so when I do I’m able to spread myself that thin and be OK with it. Hopefully, maybe, some super-Gs next year. Maybe even the end of this year, but it all depends on how I’m feeling.”
Maze has been impressed with Shiffrin’s giant slalom skills, even reportedly calling her a “young Tina Maze.” Maze was also cautious, though.
“Speed, you need a lot of experience,” Maze said. “She will need a lot of training.”
Hoefl-Riesch said Shiffrin could “become the greatest ever.”
“For her age, unbelievable how technical perfect her skiing is and also how she is handling all the pressure and expectations,” Hoefl-Riesch said. “I never saw her on long skis, but I’m sure she will have good technique for that and be really fast, too.”
Skiing fans will appreciate Hoefl-Riesch and Maze, though. They have a combined 20 Olympic and World Championship medals between them, plus 50 World Cup victories.
Their accolades may have been far from their minds Friday, as they spoke to reporters while the medalists were presented with flowers behind them.
“Finishing like this,” Maze said, “is not satisfying.”