PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (Reuters) - American Mikaela Shiffrin had to overcome more than just the best ski racers in the world to win the Olympic giant slalom gold medal on Thursday.
She also had to beat herself.
Heading into her second run trailing Italy’s Manuela Moelgg, the 22-year-old began hearing the voice of self-doubt that has visited her during the last two seasons, creating anxiety bad enough for her to seek professional help.
In the starting gate she silenced the voice, let go of the doubt and crushed the run, beating silver medalist Ragnhild Mowinckel of Norway by a healthy 0.39 seconds.
“There were moments where I thought, I don’t know if I’m good enough to do this,” Shiffrin told reporters.
“And then there were moments where I thought, who cares? You gotta try. You’re here,” she said with a smile.
The key for Shiffrin, whose celebrity has grown steadily since she won the slalom gold in Sochi in 2014 at the age of 18, has been to reconnect with the joy of skiing, which she did in front of a supportive crowd at the Yongpyong Alpine Center.
“Today I was trying really hard but I also was feeling the hill, I was feeling the mountain and I was feeling my skis,” she said.
“I was really letting it go as much as I could in that second run,” she said.
“It’s an incredible feeling to know that my best effort is good enough.”
Her best could be enough to win multiple medals in South Korea as she makes her case to be called America’s all-time best Olympic Alpine skier.
While Shiffrin may experience bouts of self-doubt, her competitors see only a composed and focused assassin on the course.
“She’s the toughest mentally,” said Federica Brignone of Italy, who won bronze in Thursday’s race.
“She can do what she does in training on the course. For sure I think she was stressed too today because I’ve seen her skiing better in training but so was I and so were all the girls.
“But she’s so in there, she can do it better than us. I think we are more emotional than her.”
Reporting by Rory Carroll; Additional reporting by Mark Trevelyan, editing by Ed Osmond