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Mikaela Shiffrin Begins Gold Rush With Giant Slalom Victory

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PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Mikaela Shiffrin, the almost unbeatable American slalom skier, proved she had successfully expanded her world-class repertoire by winning the 2018 Olympic giant slalom on Thursday.

After putting up the second fastest time on the first run, behind the little-known Italian Manuela Moelgg, Shiffrin skied the top of second run with cool efficiency and a veteran’s precision. She built a huge lead that protected her against a slip-up with a handful of gates remaining.

Shiffrin’s combined time of 2:20.02 was 0.39 seconds better than the runner-up, Ragnhild Mowinckel of Norway. With her specialty the slalom still to come, Shiffrin is in position for a special Games.

Shiffrin Takes First Place With One Skier to Go

Mikaela Shiffrin delivered on her second run, putting up the fourth fastest time in the field and putting herself in first place with one skier to come.

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Top Skiers Are Coming Up

With the top seven skiers still to go, Viktoria Rebensburg led the giant slalom. Mikaela Shiffrin was looking to beat leader Manuela Moelgg by 0.20 seconds and at the same time hold off Federica Brignone and several other skiers who were within a second of her time.

Leaders Will Go Last in Second Run

For the second run, the top 30 skiers will go in reverse order of their first run times. That means the top three, Federica Brignone, Mikaela Shiffrin and the surprising Manuela Moegg will go 28th, 29th and 30th.

Mikaela Shiffrin skiing her first run.CreditDoug Mills/The New York Times

After the First Run, Mikaela Shiffrin Ahead of Her Rivals

With all the skiers having made their first runs, Mikaela Shiffrin was in strong position in the women’s giant slalom.

Shiffrin put up the second best time, 0.20 behind the unexpected Italian Manuela Moelgg. But she outskied all her main rivals for the gold medal.

“I can go harder in the second run,” Shiffrin said. “And there’s nothing to hold back in the second run.”

Shiffrin had a very strong run, especially early, but had a little bobble late and did not finish spectacularly. Still, 0.20 should be well within her range to make up on the second run, especially against a skier like Moelgg, who has never won a World Cup event.

Most important, Shiffrin had an 0.63 lead on Viktoria Rebensburg, and Tessa Worley skied poorly and was out of the running. The main threat is likely to be Federica Brignone of Italy, who sits 0.09 behind Shiffrin in third.

Shiffrin said she expected a very aggressive, hard-charging second run.

It has been a long wait for Shiffrin’s first performance of these Games thanks to wind delays. She did not seem bothered whether it came in a giant slalom or slalom. “I’ve been race ready for either for five days.”

Manuela Moelgg of Italy had the fastest time in the first run.CreditDoug Mills/The New York Times

Manuela Moelgg the Surprise Leader

The surprise early leader was Manuela Moelgg of Italy. And a surprise she was. At age 34 she has never won an Olympic or world championship gold medal, or a World Cup race. Shiffrin will be much happier to be behind her than one of her more fearsome rivals.

Mikaela Shiffrin in Second After First Run

Mikaela Shiffrin took off seventh down the mountain. Her time at the top was the best. But like several others she lost a few tenths at the bottom. Shiffrin had a little bobble late. It was a very strong run, especially early, but not a spectacular finish. She finished in 1:10.82, two tenths behind Manuela Moelgg, but ahead of every other rival. That should set her up nicely for her second run in a few hours.

“I skied well,” Shiffrin said after the run. “We’ve been waiting to race so long I think everyone had first run jitters.”

Top Competition Put Up Slow Times

Federica Brignone did better, though still behind Manuela Moelgg’s time. Viktoria Rebensburg of Germany, the main threat to Mikaela Shiffrin, would be expected to put up the best time. But she too was a little slower. Shiffrin will be shooting to beat 1:10.62, but from an unexpected opponent, Manuela Moelgg.

On a Clear Day, Top Skiers Finally Ski

Mostly clear skies, almost no wind, the snow is hard and grippy (in a good way) and the course looks pristine. It’s a very “turny” course. The first of the big contenders, Tessa Worley of France, was second down the mountain. But she posted a 1:12.06, a second and a half slower than the less heralded Manuela Moelgg of Italy. Not a good start.

What to Watch for in the Giant Slalom

• Initially a slalom specialist, Shiffrin has expanded her repertoire to become one of the best in the world in the giant slalom as well. “If all I did was the slalom, I’d have so much free time I might as well get another job, too,” she said. “After many of my victories, I hear people asking me these questions: ‘What else is there to win?’ And I want to shout: ‘What do you mean, what else? There’s so much else!’”

• Shiffrin’s biggest challenger is likely to be Viktoria Rebensburg of Germany, the 2010 winner and 2014 bronze medalist. (The defending champion, Tina Maze of Slovenia, is retired.) Rebensburg is no pretender; she has three World Cup giant slalom wins to Shiffrin’s two this season and could arguably be considered the real favorite.

• Another contender is Tessa Worley of France. Worley is the reigning world champion, beating Shiffrin by less than a second. . Also watch Federica Brignone of Italy.

• The women will ski two runs, with the winner determined by best combined time.

• Shiffrin is set to ski seventh in the first run, after Brignone (third), Worley (fourth) and Rebensburg (sixth).

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