SR Staff Report
Petra Vlhova. GEPA pictures.
FLACHAU, Austria — Mikaela Shiffrin had the second-best time behind Olympic champion Petra Vlhova in the first run of a night slalom Tuesday as the American goes for a record 83rd win on the women’s World Cup circuit.
Three other US athletes qualify with Shiffrin: Paula Moltzan, Nina O’Brien, and Lila Lapanja. Additionally, three Canadians will join the second run party. Seven North Americans will compete in the final. Three are ranked in the top ten.
Starting first in the opening run, Shiffrin didn’t make any glaring errors on her way down the flood-lit Griessenkar course but Vlhova, who started sixth, knew where to be careful and where to charge more after several other skiers struggled.
The Flachau snow is good but not exceptionally firm. The weather continues to plague the World Cup course crews and they have worked expertly to make an exceptional race. Flachau has experienced both warm weather and snow. Because the snow was not perfect, you could see the edges sliding slightly in the snow. However, bib six, Petra Vlhova, was was faster than Shiffrin, despite running later.
Vlhova, a former overall World Cup champion from Slovakia who is Shiffrin’s biggest rival, is seeking her first win of the season after seven podium finishes.
Yes, Vlhova’s coach had set the course, but Vlhova was skiing at her limit. Knowing her only chance of competing with Shiffrin was to take every risk, she did. Vlhova won the first run 0.17 seconds faster than Shiffrin. After the top seven had completed their first run, the time spread was a massive 1.85 seconds.
Zrinka Ljutic of Croatia was third, 0.58 behind Vlhova.
Lena Duerr of Germany was faster than Shiffrin at the final checkpoint before a big mistake over a roll cost her a large chunk of time. Still, Duerr was fourth, 0.96 behind Vlhova.
Only three racers were within one second of Vlhova. One of the women was Bib 17, eighteen years old Croatian Zrinka Ljutic. Ljutic ignited the Austrian crowd by producing fast sector after the fast sector to the finish—also, bib two, Lena Duerr, will start the second run 0.96 behind the Slovakian leader. Vlhova continues to show she wants to win. She comfortably sat in the leader’s chair with a satisfied smile.
North Americans show their grit in the first run
After Shiffrin, the next best North American in the first run was Laurence St-Germain. St-Germain skied efficiently and it was fast. She moved up 14 positions from her start number and sits 1.45 seconds behind Vlhova in seventh place.
USA’s Paula Moltzan skied with bib 12. Moltzan skied well from the start and finished the initial run in 10th, 1.89 behind. While probably not in a position for a podium, expect her to move up during the second run.
Nina O’Brien supplies the good news story of the day. O’Brien has been steadily returning to form after an injury suffered in the Olympics. Today her skiing was a joy to watch. Skiing with bib 44, she qualified in 20th place. The best three North Americans are all among the top 15.
Independent American Lila Lapanja qualified for the second run for the first time this season. Finishing 30th, she is the last one into the second run and will ski the final run first. Skiing the second course first will be a tremendous opportunity to climb the leaderboard. A good result today could put her back into the top 60 on the World Cup Ski Start List and give her a start quota for next season. This season she is using her personal continental cup quota spot to access the World Cup.
Canada’s Ali Nullmeyer skied well but struggled with the snow surface. While world-class, it was not the level she is capable of, she will have a second run to show her considerable talent. Her teammate Amelia Smart also qualified. Smart looked very good but then ran into difficulties in the final sector and sits in 22nd.
Surprisingly, there is one Austrian in the top 10. They have been struggling all season to be among the elite. Thankfully for the home crowd, Katharina Liensberger is 1.85 seconds behind the leader and finished the first run tied for eighth. The fastest woman to ski with a start number higher than 30 was Germany’s Jessica Hilzinger. Hilzinger, bib 32, skied well from the top but used a very quick final sector two cross the finish line in 12th place.
Twenty percent of the women who qualified for the second run are North Americans. Five women finished in the top 30 with bibs above 30.
Shiffrin will start next to last in the second run, which starts at 8:45 p.m. local time, 2:45 p.m. EST; 1945 GMT.
Analysis of the fastest three, qualified North Americans and Top 30 first-run results
First run top 32 results Flachau January 10th night slalom
The Associated Press contributed to this report.