* Shiffrin to skip downhill to concentrate on combined
* No showdown with American rival Vonn (Adds Shiffrin to miss race)
By Nick Mulvenney and Mitch Phillips
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea, Feb 19 (Reuters) - American Mikaela Shiffrin has withdrawn from Wednesday’s women's Olympic downhill race after it was announced that the combined event would be brought forward 24 hours to Thursday because of fears of strong winds.
Shiffrin, the sport's dominant force this season, won gold in the giant slalom before finishing fourth in the slalom. She also withdrew from the super-G. "As much as I wanted to compete in the Olympic downhill, with the schedule change it’s important for me to focus my energy on preparing for the combined,” Shiffrin said in a statement issued by United States Snow and Skiboard.
"I’m looking forward to cheering on our girls racing in the downhill and to compete myself in Thursday’s combined," added Shiffrin, who was 16th fastest in downhill practice. Austria’s Stephanie Venier was quickest in Monday’s second practice session but race favourites Sofia Goggia of Italy and American Lindsey Vonn were close behind. The combined event was brought forward because of strong winds forecast for Friday.
The men's slalom, in which Austria's Marcel Hirscher could win his third gold medal of the Games, will take place as scheduled on Thursday at the Yongpyong mountain.
Three of the first four races on the Alpine schedule were postponed because of winds gusting up to 72 kilometres per hour which closed the gondola taking the competitors to the top of the mountain. (Reporting by Nick Mulvenney/Mitch Phillips, editing by Ed Osmond)