PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (Reuters) - Claiming a maiden Olympic gold in the slalom on Friday was scarcely believable for Frida Hansdotter but it was almost as stunning as not sharing the podium with Mikaela Shiffrin.
All too often, the Swede has climbed podiums at the biggest events only to have the American beaming down at her from the top step.
Instead, an off-color Shiffrin finished fourth at the Yongpyong Alpine Center, opening the door for perennial bridesmaid Hansdotter to grab Sweden’s first gold in the event since her mentor Anja Paerson’s 2006 triumph at Turin.
Hansdotter was third behind Shiffrin at last year’s world championships at St. Moritz and runner-up behind the American in 2015 at Vail, Colorado.
“I knew it would be tough, Mikaela has been so strong this season,” said the late-blooming Hansdotter, who clinched the most glittering prize of her career at the age of 32.
“I was maybe a little bit surprised. It’s nice for me to beat her for once because she has been beating me so many times.”
Hansdotter’s combined time from the two legs was one minute, 38.63, leaving her just 0.05 seconds ahead of Swiss silver medalist Wendy Holdener. Austria’s Katharina Gallhuber took the bronze.
Screaming with joy after crossing the line, Hansdotter was weeping later after receiving congratulations from Paerson.
Now a media pundit, Paerson showed Hansdotter a picture in a social media post of her boyfriend cheering her win at home, bringing tears to the Olympic champion’s eyes.
“The first years in my World Cup (circuit), (Paerson) was winning so much, she was a huge inspiration for me and then we’ve become friends. And now she’s here and for sure it’s a support,” said Hansdotter.
Paerson had told her before her first run to “just have fun, ski fast and do what you can.”
It was timely advice for Hansdotter, who has been accused of playing too safe at the major events.
But on Friday, she was full of self-belief before her second run and duly threw caution to the wind.
“I don’t go all out so often but ... I had good self-confidence and just to take a little bit more risk than I used to,” said the Swede, a distant relation to Sweden’s royal family.
“I had a smile on my face from the start and just knew I wanted to ski fast.”
Defending champion Shiffrin, meanwhile, was gloomy about skiing too “conservatively”, but paid full credit to the woman who took her crown.
“She deserves it, of course she does,” said the American.
“Since the beginning of my career, since my first World Cup win, she’s been right there. And I found so much motivation from competing with her that it’s amazing.”
Editing by Greg Stutchbury