BEIJING — Petra Vlhova added an Olympic gold medal to her growing list of achievements, winning the women’s slalom at the Beijing Games on Wednesday.
It was Slovakia’s first Olympic medal in Alpine skiing and helped Vlhova atone for her poor performance in Monday’s giant slalom.
Her biggest rival, two-time Olympic champion Mikaela Shiffrin, went out in the first run of that race and the American again failed to finish her opening run on Wednesday.
Vlhova, who already has clinched the World Cup slalom title, finished an unexpected 14th in the giant slalom and looked set for more disappointment when she completed the first slalom run down the Ice River course in eighth, 0.72 seconds behind leader Lena Dürr.
But last season’s overall World Cup champion made it up on the second run, which was set by her coach, Mauro Pini. She finished in a combined time of 1 minute, 44.98 seconds.
“Honestly, it was really difficult to be calm and focused on my skiing,” Vlhova said. “But I had a lot of power from my team. They trusted me, they believed in me and they repeated to me, ‘You are so strong. Just ski free. Enjoy and focus on your skiing, nothing else.’ They were always repeating this to me in between the two runs.
“I gave everything I had and at the end I am Olympic champion.”
Vlhova, 26, rushed over to hug her teammates and coach after Dürr crossed the line in fourth place.
“She left her heart on the course. That’s what I asked her to do,” Pini said. “After that first run, there was nothing to lose. She had to be courageous and gutsy.
“I told her: ‘I want to see someone gutsy and with a lot of heart on that hill.’ And she did it. Incredible.”
Dürr, 30, burst into tears when she realized she had missed out on what would have been a first medal at a major championship.
Katharina Liensberger of Austria was 0.08 slower than Vlhova over the two legs. She had seemed set to dominate the discipline after winning the World Cup and world championship slalom titles last year but has struggled this season with illness and also contracted the coronavirus in December.
“I wasn’t sure if I could make it after all these difficult situations,” Liensberger said. “I wasn’t 100% top fit and so it was some really hard season for me.
“So I didn’t know if I could really show it but I gave it all today and after the first run I just wanted to ski as fast as I can with my full heart and give my 100% what’s possible.”
Wendy Holdener of Switzerland was 0.12 behind Vlhova to add bronze to the silver medal she won in the slalom at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games.
Sara Hector looked set to continue an incredible resurgence by winning a second gold medal in three days but the Olympic giant slalom champion fell with the finish line in sight and an advantage over Vlhova of almost half a second.
“Sport is sport and anything can happen,” Hector said. “For sure it’s a little bit bitter now, but I’m super happy for the way I charged and did my best.”