PYEONGCHANG, South Korea, Feb 16 (Reuters) - Switzerland’s Wendy Holdener set the early pace in the women’s slalom at Yongpyong Alpine Centre on Friday, leaving American favourite Mikaela Shiffrin trailing 0.48 seconds behind in fourth.
First out on a crisp, clear morning, Holdener negotiated the 63-gate course in 48.89 seconds with a textbook descent and then watched on as the other leading contenders were unable to surpass her time.
“Of course it’s nice but in the end you have two runs, it’s not finished yet. I’ll try to do the same like my first run, concentrate on my skiing, stay calm and give my best,” she said.
Shiffrin, who won gold in the giant slalom on Thursday, is bidding to become the first skier to successfully defend an Olympic slalom title following her triumph in Sochi in 2014.
The 22-year-old was confident she could make up the time on Holdener in the second leg.
“It’s really nice, the surface is still really nice. You can be super clean, unfortunately I wasn’t clean enough,” she told reporters.
“But I’m looking forward to the second run. I don’t think it will take anything special, just skiing clean,” she said.
The 24-year-old Holdener, who has yet to win a World Cup race in slalom, could become the first Swiss to win Olympic slalom medal since Vreni Schneider in 1994.
After the top 20 skiers had completed their opening runs, Sweden’s Frida Hansdotter (49.09) and Anna Swenn Larsson (49.29) were second and third fastest.
“That was fun,” said Hansdotter, “I’m happy with that run... Nice to have my team mate up high as well ... if we can stay like this at the end it would be a dream.”
There was a disappointing run from Slovak contender Petra Vlhova, second in the World Cup slalom standings this season, who was 2.23 seconds behind Holdener.
The second leg begins at 13:15 local (0415 GMT).
Additional reporting by Ian Ransom and Rory Carroll; Editing by Greg Stutchbury