Mikaela Shiffrin sat at the side of the slope, her arms on her knees and her head bowed.
The American, who is so accustomed to success as one of the greatest to ever put on a pair of skis, has now suffered two bitter disappointments in the space of three days in Beijing.
Just two days after she crashed out of her first run in Monday’s giant slalom, Shiffrin also failed to make it past five gates in Wednesday’s slalom after skiing off line just seconds into her opening attempt.
“It’s probably a culmination of the other day and today,” she replied when asked what she thinking while sat at the side of the course. “It feels like a really big let down.
“I was trying to look back and think about the last days and what I’ve been trying to do, what I’ve been doing with my skiing that would suggest that on the fifth gate I would push myself a little bit too hard to actually be able to stay in the course.
“[But] my skiing has been really solid. My entire career has taught me to trust in my skiing if it’s good skiing, and that’s all that I have to rely on on these race days.
“And when the pressure is high – and of course the pressure is high, but that didn’t feel like the biggest issue today – and there are some nerves and the feeling that I want to do well, I always just go back to that fundamental idea that good skiing will be there for me.
“It’s not the end of the world and it’s so stupid to care this much, but I feel I have to question a lot now.”
‘Feels like a lot of work for nothing’
Shiffrin had come into these Games with high hopes of making history as the first US alpine skier to win three medals at a single Winter Olympics. Those hopes are now appear to be all but over.
The 26-year-old, who was the defending Olympic champion in the giant slalom and the 2014 Olympic champion in the slalom, has now had two of her best chances at a medal melt through her fingers.
Prior to Beijing 2022, Shiffrin had recorded just two DNFs in the last four years. She now has two in three days.
“It’s a let down of everything, letting down myself, letting down other people,” she said. “I think there were some people that expected I might win, maybe hoped I might win.
“I know that for the people working closest to me, we were all crossing our fingers and also doing all of the work I could possibly do to give myself the best chance. It’s a let down for them, we came all this way.
“We are not done yet but GS and slalom, those were my biggest focuses. It really feels like a lot of work for nothing. They will try to say: ‘This happens and it’s OK, and don’t be too hard on yourself,’ but it is a lot of work for a grand total of five gates in the GS and five gates in the slalom. That’s not lost on me.”
‘I don’t know how to handle it’
Wednesday’s contest was supposed to be skiing’s marquee event at Beijing 2022, with Shiffrin and Petra Vlhova – by some distance the two best slalom skiers in the world – competing in a mouth-watering clash for a gold medal.
But despite Shiffrin’s early crash it was still a brilliant battle at the top, as Slovakia’s Vlhova came from behind after her opening run to pip Katharina Liensberger of Austria to gold by just 0.08 seconds, with Switzerland’s Wendy Holdener securing bronze.
Shiffrin had said before the Games that she planned to ski in all five individual alpine skiing disciplines, with the downhill, super-G and alpine combined still remaining in Beijing.
However, a now downbeat Shiffrin hinted that may no longer be the case.
“I will try to re-set again, maybe try to re-set better this time but I also don’t know how to do better because I just don’t,” she said. “I have never been in this position before and I don’t know how to handle it.
“The hill and the ski track looks pretty incredible and I think it will be a pleasure to ski, but I also have some teammates who are really fast and we have the athletes who can fill the spaces, so if I am going to ski out on the fifth gate, what’s the point?”