ARE, Sweden (AP) — Mikaela Shiffrin will have to overcome extreme weather conditions and a deficit of 0.44 seconds to win the giant slalom for a second gold medal at the world championships.
Racing in winds that reached 70 kph (43.5 mph) with an unseasonably mild temperature of 7 C (44 F) and on a surface that has been affected by two days of rain, Shiffrin was the second skier out on a shortened course Thursday and had a rueful look after crossing the line.
The American was in fourth place — behind Viktoria Rebensburg, Petra Vlhova and Ragnhild Mowinckel — heading into the second leg starting at 5.45 p.m. local time (1645 GMT).
"They did a lot of work on the surface here, and it was an incredible effort to get this race off," said Shiffrin, who won a gold medal in the super-G last week. "That said, it's a challenge to push on and get a response from the surface, so it was a balance of how hard you can push and how much risk you can take."
Rebensburg, the Olympic champion in giant slalom in 2010, took a 0.19-second lead over Vlhova and has a good chance of winning Germany a first medal at this year's worlds in the eighth event. She also won silver in the giant slalom in the 2015 worlds in Beaver Creek, Colorado.
Mowinckel was third, 0.37 seconds off the lead. Rebensburg went off as the third skier, after Mowinckel and Shiffrin, and held a lead of 0.72 on Mowinckel after the third checkpoint only to see that halved in the final stages.
The world championships have been heavily affected by changing weather in central Sweden. The first run of the giant slalom went off from the reserve start.
Shiffrin skipped town at the end of last week — meaning she sat out the Alpine combined — to spend some days training in nearby Norway. She encountered heavy snowfall that proved to be a challenge for her and her coaches.
When she won the super-G, she raced in temperatures as low as minus 18 C (0 F). That's a 25-degree swing between her first and second races.
"It's an outdoor sport," she said. "Weather is one of the variables we can't control."
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Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80