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Mikaela Shiffrin, Of The U.S., Wins Gold In Women's Giant Slalom

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

There was a lot of hype around Mikaela Shiffrin. She finally had her Alpine debut last night at the Olympics in South Korea, and she did not disappoint. From Pyeongchang, NPR's Tom Goldman reports.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: The giant slalom originally was scheduled for Monday. Then the winds came and delayed not only that race but another women's event. For ticket-buying fans, the postponements were inconvenient; for Mikaela Shiffrin, maddening.

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MIKAELA SHIFFRIN: You don't even know. Oh, my gosh, last night, I was like, are we ever going to race?

GOLDMAN: This was Shiffrin after she did race her first of two runs in Thursday's giant slalom. Wearing matching orange helmet and boots and a white ski suit striped with red and blue, Shiffrin logged the second-fastest time of the morning run. Winded from her efforts, she told reporters she skied well.

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SHIFFRIN: But I also feel like, I can go a little bit harder. And, you know, there's nothing to hold back for in the second run.

GOLDMAN: Before we go to that second run, consider for a moment what was expected of this 22-year-old when she arrived in South Korea. How about everything? She was going to be skiing's version of Olympic swimming superstar Michael Phelps. You could imagine her neck straining under the weight of yet-to-be-won multiple medals. But as the world around her imagined, Shiffrin stood in the start gate for run two, thinking only about what she said - go a little bit harder.

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SHIFFRIN: (Yelling).

GOLDMAN: Going harder, Shiffrin carved her way around the blue and red gates, clipping them as she powered past. Those who watched her saw a great skier - her timing, how she controls the edges of her skis. On a steep slope with really hard snow, there are so many ways to hit a rut or some unforeseen bump that can throw you off course in an instant. Shiffrin seems immune to the dangers. One expert, marveling at her control, said it looked like her skis were on tracks.

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UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Yelling) Go, go, go, go.

GOLDMAN: She crossed the finish line 39-hundredths of a second ahead of the skier who'd win the silver medal, Norwegian Ragnhild Mowinckel. Shiffrin looked at the scoreboard, raised her arms, bent over and ultimately ended up on the ground. For the woman who'd beaten the field and expectations, a moment of relief.

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SHIFFRIN: Sort of hard to explain - not really relief. Just, like, I don't know. It was an amazing feeling, like my best effort is good enough.

GOLDMAN: For her coach, Mike Day, the second run performance was the perfect explanation of why the expectations are so high.

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MIKE DAY: Champions have that ability, right? And true champions are able to produce that whenever it's needed, and today, she did that.

GOLDMAN: And now the attention shifts to tomorrow, the makeup day for the ladies' slalom, where she's the defending Olympic champion. And considering both she and Day talked about the pressure release of winning a first medal, Mikaela Shiffrin's neck may start straining yet. Tom Goldman, NPR News, Pyeongchang.

(SOUNDBITE OF OBESON'S "ALONE (INSTRUMENTAL)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.