PYEONGCHANG, SOUTH KOREA – A potential marquee event of these Olympics — a heavyweight showdown in Alpine skiing — is off the table.
Curse that gusty wind.
Lindsey Vonn still is primed to contend for gold in the women’s downhill Wednesday morning, but 22-year-old American star Mikaela Shiffrin couldn’t cram it into her schedule thanks to more wind disruptions.
Organizers moved the Alpine combined event up one day to Thursday because of expected high winds Friday, a weather issue that has plagued skiing events at these Games.
Shiffrin is expected to contend for a medal in that event, so she withdrew from downhill to give herself enough preparation and recovery time.
“As much as I wanted to compete in the Olympic downhill, with the schedule change it’s important for me to focus my energy on preparing for the combined,” Shiffrin said.
That leaves one less serious challenger for Vonn, who brought home a gold medal the last time she competed in this event at the Olympics, in 2010 in Vancouver.
Vonn owns six top-five finishes in the downhill at world championships and has added three more World Cup wins in that event this season.
Her affection for this race stems from one aspect of it that she enjoys above all else.
“You go the fastest,” she said.
Vonn will try to become the fastest down the mountain again at the Jeongseon Alpine Centre when she competes in her signature event for the final time as an Olympian. The event begins at 8 p.m. Central time Tuesday.
“I’ve tried not to think about it as it being my last Olympic downhill,” she said. “Just focus on the moment, the right here and the right now. I think later I’ll reflect on how much I enjoyed it and how much my teammates made it special.”
Shiffrin will be there to cheer, not race, which is not how she envisioned her Olympic experience. Shiffrin created a stir after arriving here by hinting that she hoped to compete in all five Alpine events: slalom, giant slalom, super-G, downhill and combined.
That plan seemed overly ambitious, if not unrealistic, and was scrapped almost immediately after high winds forced several events to be postponed to later days. The compressed schedule left too little recovery time for Shiffrin, who won her second career gold in the giant slalom in her first race but finished a disappointing fourth in the slalom.
Regardless of whether Shiffrin had competed in downhill, Vonn is considered a heavy favorite for gold. She won three World Cup downhill races in Olympic tune-up events and had the fastest time in the first training run Sunday. She said she feels strong and reported no issues with her right knee.
“Everything’s great,” she said. “Feel like a million bucks. I am 33.”
Vonn is trying to become the oldest woman to win an Olympic Alpine medal. She failed in her first attempt this past Saturday in the super-G when a mistake on the final turn cost her a shot at the podium.
Vonn finished tied for sixth, which ignited swift and harsh social media backlash in response to comments she made to CNN back in December. Vonn said she would not visit the White House along with other Olympians if she won a medal.
Her Twitter account was flooded with nasty comments after her stumble cost her a shot at a medal.
“Of course, there are going to be people that hate me,” she said after her training run. “That’s fine. I just take it for what it is. At some point, you have to laugh and say, ‘This is just completely ridiculous.’ ”
She was able to laugh about the mini-controversy Monday and says she avoids social media before races.
“I always try to remember it’s people talking behind a computer and they’re going to say anything,” she said. “The most important thing is that I’m having a good time, that I’m enjoying being at the Olympics. My family’s here. They love me.”
She’s not ready for her farewell just yet. She has another shot at a medal, and Olympic history, in her favorite event.
“I can’t get too sentimental right now because I still have to race,” she said. “I still have to be focused.”