SR Staff Report
SCHLADMING, Austria — Mikaela Shiffrin impressed with a come-from-behind win in a night race Tuesday to send a strong signal to her Slovakian rival Petra Vlhova in the last women’s World Cup slalom before the Beijing Olympics.
Racing on the challenging Planai course, the American improved from fifth place, posting the fastest time with an all-attacking run to beat first-run leader Vlhova by 0.15 seconds.
Vlhova has been dominating women’s slalom this season, winning five of the seven races and locking up the season title with two races to spare.
But Shiffrin was back to her best Tuesday, two days after failing to finish the previous slalom.
The American cried and buried her face on an advertisement banner in the finish area after her leading time still stood after all four racers after her had finished.
“Last time I skied slalom in Schladming was world champs, also emotional,” said the American, referring to the championships in 2013, when she won her first world title as a 17-year-old.
Tuesday’s victory marked Shiffrin’s 47th career slalom win, making her the first skier in World Cup history to win that many races in a single discipline. She previously shared the best mark with Swedish great Ingemar Stenmark, who won 46 giant slalom in the 1970s and 80s.
“It’s going to take a little while to sink in. It’s been many years of work to get to that number. Tonight I just want to enjoy how I skied the second run,” Shiffrin said.
“I think aside from Killington for obvious reasons, it’s probably going to be the most memorable race of my career,” said Shiffrin. “It’s really quite a privilege for us [women] to be able to race on this slope. This morning I was like totally geeking out over it, because it’s Schladming. This is what we live for. After the last few weeks I wasn’t feeling prepared to race this race, but this is the opportunity we have and we have it now. I’m not going to have this opportunity tomorrow, or in two weeks, or in four weeks when I feel ready, I have this opportunity now, tonight, and that’s it. The second run I think my skiing was more deserving of this hill and this opportunity and I’m really proud of that. I don’t take for granted the opportunity to race here and be in a position where I can actually win.”
“It’s just quite special to be sitting here now. It feels like it didn’t happen,” said Shiffrin, who stretched her lead in the overall standings over Vlhova to 55 points.
Her win did not prevent Vlhova from securing the season title in the discipline.
The Slovakian leads Shiffrin by 220 points with just two more World Cup slaloms scheduled after the Olympics.
“To win the globe in the middle of January, that’s amazing,” said Vlhova, who is the defending overall champion but has only competed in slaloms and giant slaloms so far this season.
“It was a main goal for us to win the small globe for slalom. We made it and that is something huge,” she said.
Vlhova won the slalom globe once before, in 2020, after Shiffrin had won it six times in seven years.
“She’s skiing strong, she’s making no mistakes,” commented Shiffrin on Vlhova’s slalom season. “She’s skiing slalom the way it’s meant to be skied, and it’s impressive and special to watch that. It’s very rare that somebody is going to be able to come out ahead of her. Tonight it was my night, and I’m thankful for that but I didn’t expect that [my second run] was going to be enough.”
“Any time you manage to be a little bit faster than Petra, that’s an incredible job,” Shiffrin said.
The title went to Katharina Liensberger last season. On Tuesday, the Austrian was 0.79 behind in eighth after the first run and ultimately finished 21st after nearly skiing out at the end of her second run.
Germany’s Lena Dürr finished 0.93 behind in third for her third podium result of the season.
Shiffrin’s teammate Paula Moltzan was in sixth place after the opening run but straddled a gate in her second. The American has been skiing with the pole taped to her glove since fracturing her left wrist. Nina O’Brien snagged a top 20 finish in 19th, her best slalom World Cup finish to date. AJ Hurt and Katie Hensien did not qualify for a second run.
Canada’s Ali Nullmeyer and Switzerland’s Wendy Holdener, who shared the third spot after the opening run, both failed to finish their final runs.
Anna Swenn-Larsson, who finished third in a slalom in Slovenia on Sunday, was among the fastest starters in the first run and led Vlhova by more than two-tenths of a second at the first split before the Swede straddled a gate.
The Planai course is an annual stop on the men’s circuit. The women last raced at the venue during the world championships in 2013.
The race was relocated from nearby Flachau, which has been hit by a recent rise in coronavirus infections.
The Associated Press and the U.S. Ski Team press office contributed to this report.
This is a developing story, stay tuned for more.