Mikaela Shiffrin, the 18-year-old American whose mother grew up in Lanesborough, Mass., was fifth in Tuesday's giant slalom, her Olympic debut, a half-second off the pace. Shiffrin is favored in Friday's slalom at the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Tina Maze won the giant slalom for her second gold medal of the Sochi Games. The Slovenian skier is the first woman since Marie-Theres Nadig of Switzerland at the 1972 Sapporo Games with enough versatility to master the downhill's test of pure speed and the giant slalom's more technical turns at the same Olympics.
After attending a skiing academy in Vermont, Shiffrin made her World Cup debut in March 2011, two days before her 16th birthday. Nine months later, in only her eighth career race, she earned her first top-three finish. When she was 17, Shiffrin won a World Cup race for the first time. She comes to the Sochi Olympics as the reigning world champion and World Cup champion in the slalom.
"I wanted a gold, but ... I think this was meant to happen," Shiffrin said. "And it's something I'm going to learn from. Next Olympics I go to, I'm sure as heck not getting fifth."
She gave credit to the medalists for faring so well in the shifting conditions, something her father, Jeff, also noted.
"I think, and it's just a personal bias, that these are the kind of conditions that years of experience help you with," Jeff Shiffrin said. "All sorts of different snow conditions and raining and fog and da-da-da-da-da, and some of the older ladies were able to turn that a little bit to their advantage today."
One racer, sixth-place finisher Maria Pietilae-Holmner of Sweden, called the way the snow felt to "skiing on sugar."