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Skier Maze tops field in giant slalom for second Sochi gold

AP, AFP-JIJI

Tina Maze earned her second gold medal of the Sochi Olympics on Tuesday, winning from the front in a rainy and snowy giant slalom.

Wearing bib No. 1, Maze skied through the gates cleanly to defend her big first-run lead and finish 0.07 seconds ahead of Anna Fenninger of Austria.

Maze celebrated by belly-flopping onto the snow and pretending to swim the breaststroke.

Defending champion Viktoria Rebensburg of Germany was third, trailing 0.27 behind Maze’s two-run time of 2 minutes, 36.87 seconds.

American teenager Mikaela Shiffrin placed fifth in her Olympic debut, missing a medal by just 0.23 seconds.

Maze added giant slalom gold in the rain to the tie for victory in a sunbathed downhill last week. The 30-year-old Maze also won giant slalom silver at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

Maze had seen fourth-placed Fenninger, who was also looking for a second gold after winning Saturday’s super-G, storm into the lead, which changed hands seven times in a dramatic climax to the event.

Starting with an 0.85-secon lead over the Austrian, Maze’s deficit was slowly eroded away in the increasingly slushy conditions, but she hung on through to the finish line to sneak home by the aforementioned slim margin.

“I can live with that!” Maze said. “This season I’d focused on the Olympics. I was ready for this, it’s what I came here to do.

“It was tough for me to keep the same rhythm as last year in the World Cup. But I knew I was going to show my best here, it’s great. The rest of the season doesn’t matter.”

Maze led the first run by 0.52 seconds. Jessica Lindell-Vikarby of Sweden had been in second place, but she faded down to place seventh.

After Maze crossed the line, a further 44 lower-ranked skiers still had their second run. They included pop-classical violinist Vanessa Mae, who raced for Thailand as Vanessa Vanakorn. She was the slowest of 74 first-run finishers, 26.98 seconds behind Maze, and was scheduled last. (Although a British citizen, strict British Olympic Association rules on team selection for alpine skiing saw Mae take Thai citizenship in her bid to make the Olympics. The violinist — who has described music as her “lifelong passion” but skiing as her “lifelong hobby” — eventually qualified after getting the required number of points in four races in Slovenia.)

One absentee in the original 90-racer lineup was Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany, who skipped her weakest event because of a cold and breathing problems.

Hoefl-Riesch, the super-combined champion and super-G silver medalist, went to the course to warm up Tuesday but chose not to race. She is expected to defend her slalom title on Friday and challenge for a record-equaling fourth career Olympic gold in women’s Alpine skiing.

Julia Mancuso, GS champion at the 2006 Turin Olympics, skied out midway down the last slope in her final event.

“That’s a wrap for me here in Sochi. It’s been inspiring! Thanks for all the support and Love! #GoUSA!!! Now I get to celebrate my Bronze!!!,” Mancuso, who got her medal in super-combined, wrote on her Twitter account.

Maze has been the most consistent women’s skier at the Sochi Games. Mancuso edged her off the super-combined podium by just 0.10 seconds and she was fifth in super-G.

Her victory Tuesday recaptured her standout form in GS last season when she had top-three finishes in all 10 races, including a silver medal at the world championships.

Maze’s joyous celebration reflected how the tension in her skiing has lifted at the Olympics. In an often-frustrating season, she has won only one World Cup race while struggling to follow her record-setting 2013 season.

It has been a remarkable Olympics for Maze, further confirming that her hard-nosed decision to switch coaches to Mauro Pini just a month before the Olympics was paying off.

Her form in Sochi has rebounded and she is yet to finish lower than seventh in a race on the Rosa Khutor slopes.

“You don’t normally change coaches in mid-season,” said Maze. “But I had that opportunity, so why not if it could work out better for me?”

Mae, meanwhile, was happy with her result.

“I expected to be last but at the end of the day the Olympics is a great opportunity,” she said after her first run, still wearing a bright green and pink mouthguard.

“I nearly crashed three times, but I made it down and that was the main thing. Just the experience of being here is amazing. I was worried I was going to get lost (on the course), but I just about managed it.”

She added: “I’m a last-minute kind of girl, I mean training for the Olympics with six months to go was a last-minute thing.

“My main purpose of being here was to really have a good time, to improve my skiing in a very short amount of time.”