Mikaela Shiffrin entered the slalom portion of the Alpine combined race in fifth place on Thursday after an impressive downhill run and was looking to reverse her Olympic woes with a medal in her last individual race of the Beijing Games.
She had previously called her first races in Beijing a "failure," and a podium finish would have been a fairy-tale ending and the ultimate redemption.
But it wasn't to be.
The 26-year-old American skier crashed out of the race about 10 gates into the run and recorded her third "did not finish" at the Olympics. She appeared to be fighting tears on the side of the course after she picked herself up.
Switzerland's Michelle Gisin ultimately won the gold, with her fellow countrywoman Wendy Holdener earning silver. Italy's Federica Brignone won the bronze.
"Oh, man, I don't know if anybody has failed that hard with so many opportunities maybe in the history of the Olympics," Shiffrin said in an interview on NBC following the race. "But I'll take it. I mean, it is a joke. That's fine. I just really selfishly wanted to have a good run of slalom down this hill, and I'll be left wanting there."
It has been an unexpectedly disappointing Olympics for Shiffrin. Already one of the most decorated Alpine skiers and one of the most recognizable athletes competing in the Winter Games, Shiffrin arrived in Beijing with sky-high expectations and all the attention that follows. She entered with three Olympic medals, including two golds; one more medal would tie Julia Mancuso for the most by an American woman in Alpine skiing, and another gold would give Shiffrin the most by any American skier in the sport. It felt inevitable she was bound for the history books.
But in Shiffrin's first competition, the giant slalom, in which she was the defending gold medalist, she recorded an uncharacteristic DNF after skiing out just 11 seconds into the race.
Things went from bad to worse two days later in the slalom event, in which she was the favorite to win. Shiffrin had yet another DNF after just five seconds. She looked devastated as she sat alone for several minutes on the side of the course.
Shiffrin fared better in the super-G, in which she finished ninth, and the downhill, with an 18th-place finish, yet for someone who was expected to win multiple medals, it was a disheartening string of results.
On Thursday, however, she utilized her experience on the downhill from earlier in the week, as well as the fastest run in training on Wednesday, and recorded the fifth-best time (1:32.98) in that discipline of the Alpine combined. A medal seemed probable, perhaps even likely.
But Shiffrin had doubts. She was candid in an interview with NBC before the slalom leg about how she was feeling entering what has long been considered her signature event.
"I'm not feeling totally confident with the slalom," Shiffrin said. "I mean, I have a recurring image of myself skiing out on the fifth gate again, so I'm just going to do my best."
In the end, Shiffrin was unable to get past her nerves or lingering fears, though she said she was initially enjoying the race and was relaxed and loose at the start.
Shiffrin will have one last chance to earn an Olympic medal in Beijing on Saturday in the mixed team parallel slalom competition. She will become just the second woman in history to compete in all six Alpine events in the Olympics, joining her rival Petra Vlhova, who did so in 2018, the first year of the team event.
Following the combined race, Shiffrin was still able to find perspective and provide introspection about her Olympic experience, as she has done throughout her time in Beijing.
"I think there's a lot of positive, and a lot of positive even in my skiing," Shiffrin said on the broadcast. "I had some really great -- some of the best skiing I've ever done here in Beijing, in the training, in the downhill over the last week, in my slalom, even today. In the race, in the moment, when it counts, then I didn't make it to the finish, and that's never happened in my entire career, so I don't understand it. But there was so much positive that's happened in the last couple weeks despite how much it really stinks.
"I don't know, sometimes you just have to take it, I guess. Try to fix it the next time. I don't know what I'm supposed to fix. That's the frustrating thing. I don't think there's something to fix. It just went really, really wrong."