KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — American teenager Mikaela Shiffrin, with the poise of someone 10 years older and the talent level of perhaps only herself, successfully made history Friday night at the Sochi Olympics.
Shiffrin, 18, of Eagle-Vail, Colo., won the gold medal in the women's slalom, beating, among others, a trio of legendary skiers – 29-year-old Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany, 30-year-old Tina Maze of Slovenia, and 32-year-old Marlies Schild of Austria.
Shiffrin was favored, after taking hold of the slalom discipline on the World Cup circuit in the past year (winning three of six slalom races this season) and winning a world championship last year in Schladming, Austria, becoming the youngest woman to win an alpine skiing world title since 1985.
But she still had to do it, in a second run held at night, under the lights, in the spotlight.
With a big lead going into the second run, she survived a near fall about halfway down the course in a moment that caused who knows how many gasps from those who saw it live or on TV.
"It was a pretty crazy moment there," Shiffrin said. "I went out of the start, and I was like, 'I'm going fast.' Then I went out of that flush and was like, 'I'm not gonna make it. I'm not gonna make it.' I threw on a hockey stop right there. That was a little bit tough.
"It scared me half to death."
She avoided a fall, though, and finished with a two-run time of 1 minute, 44.54 seconds, beating silver medalist Schild by 0.53 seconds and bronze medalist Kathrin Zettel, also of Austria, by 0.81 seconds.
Hoefl-Riesch finished fourth and Maze eighth.
Shiffrin becomes the youngest woman to win an Olympic slalom and the first U.S. woman to win the slalom at the Olympics since Barbara Cochran took the gold 42 years ago at the 1972 Winter Games.
U.S. women's slalom coach Roland Pfeifer thought for a moment the gold medal was gone when Shiffrin nearly fell.
"I thought, 'It's over,' " he said. "Sometimes Mikaela for some reason, when she's really hammering it, she gets in the back seat a little bit. That was brutal. I can't describe how I felt."
The morning of the race, though, Pfeifer was convinced Shiffrin was ready.