- Associated Press - Friday, February 21, 2014

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) - Tina Maze ended her fifth race at the Sochi Olympics just like her first - slumped sitting on the snow, right hand to her forehead, masking an anguished expression.

In her up-and-down Olympics, the Slovenian skier swung between frustrating near-misses and gold-medal triumphs, coming tantalizingly close to making history.

“That’s more than I expected,” Maze said of her two Olympic titles and five top-10 finishes in Sochi.

Eighth place in Friday’s slalom was her worst result of the games, although it looked like it would be better after being third-fastest in the first run, within reach of eventual winner Mikaela Shiffrin.

“It’s just finishing this slalom, it’s not satisfying, it’s hard now,” said Maze, whose faltering form through the gates likely lost her a medal in super-combined. “I’m struggling in slalom. I don’t know what to do.”

In that women’s program-opening super-combined, Maze fell 0.10 seconds short of the bronze medal taken by Julia Mancuso, who rarely skis much slalom anymore. But she responded by racing into a tie for the downhill win with Dominique Gisin of Switzerland. Their hand-holding gesture on the podium gave the Sochi Olympics a memorable image.

Frustration followed in super-G, when the fifth-place Maze again left herself one-tenth off the medals. Once more she sat isolated with her thoughts, eyes closed, and seemingly searching for the lost time.

The exuberant side of her personality returned two days later, when she mimicked swimming through wet snow after her front-running success in a rain-soaked giant slalom.

Victory on Friday would have raised Maze among the all-time Olympic Alpine greats.

A third gold would have matched Janica Kostelic of Croatia at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, Jean-Claude Killy of France at the 1968 Grenoble Games and Toni Sailer of Austria at the 1956 Cortina d’Ampezzo Olympics.

But it eluded one of the few skiers to compete in all five events, at the Olympics and all season on the grueling World Cup circuit.

“Well, I think I’m pretty tired. My body is not fresh,” the 30-year-old Maze said. “It’s hard to ski down fast, especially in the second run.”

Maze’s praise of the 18-year-old Shiffrin perhaps hinted at qualities she would like, too.

“She’s young. She’s free. She doesn’t think too much,” said the reigning overall World Cup champion, who has struggled to defend her title. “She’s just doing it easy. For that age, I’m really impressed by her.”

Shiffrin has often praised Maze, and a comparison was made after the race.

“I’m the young Tina Maze?” Shiffrin said. “That’s not a bad place to be considering her season last year and her Olympics this year.”

A short time after the race, Maze’s mood lightened and her anger subsided, allowing her to reflect on just how much she actually did accomplish in Sochi.

“I think I did a great Olympics,” she said, “and I can be proud of that.”

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