Alice Robinson stepped into the start gate on the Rettenbach glacier for the first time, not knowing that her debut in Soelden would be a day to remember. The 17-year-old has had promising finishes in giant slalom over the past season, from winning the event at the World Junior Championships in Val di Fassa, Italy, to surprising the field and finishing on a World Cup podium for the first time in her career at World Cup Finals in Soldeu, Andorra. For those on tour who were surprised by her strong final finish, Saturday’s win in Soelden proves that Robinson has what it takes to contend for a GS podium in each race she enters.
A win for Robinson on Saturday also answers a question many fans have been asking after Shiffrin dominated the Tour last season — who will be the next up-and-comer to pose a significant threat to Shiffrin’s throne?
In terms of the race for the overall crystal globe, it’s hard make an argument against Shiffrin. Shiffrin is undisputedly the only skier on tour actively competing in each individual discipline that has a shot at the podium, if not a win, each time she steps in the start gate. However, that does not mean an individual discipline title is out of reach for one of her rivals if the opportunity presents itself.
Shiffrin didn’t have a bad day. In fact, she seemed quite satisfied with her first go — nodding her head, smiling, even letting out a small “woo” after executing a textbook first run of GS. But Robinson skied just as well; in fact, she was the only woman who was able to hang on to Shiffrin’s first run time, sitting only 0.14 seconds back. Italy’s Federica Brignone, who was third after the first run, was 0.86 seconds back.
Typically, when Shiffrin gets beat in her bread-and-butter technical events, it’s more often than not due to the fact that she made some sort of mistake on course that cost her just enough time for someone to squeak past her in the ranks. When mistakes happen, she almost always recovers quickly and finds a way to save her run to still end up on the podium, or get the win. Today, Robinson skied with a force, enough force to surpass Shiffrin and hang on to a win by a mere 0.06 seconds. In both of her runs, she attacked the lengthy pitch with everything she had, and was able to beat Shiffrin on a clean day. A rare occasion.
“For sure, there’s going to be disappointment when you come through the finish after having the lead in the first run and you see the red light,” says Shiffrin. “The first thing is, it was so close. The second thing is, Alice skied incredible today, just like she skied in Andorra last year.”
In a pre-race press conference earlier in the week, NBC announcer Steve Porino pressed Shiffrin on the potential threat of Robinson, and the impact she can have, and already has had, on the next generation of skiers. Shiffrin knows what it is like to rise through the ranks as a teenager. In fact, her first ever giant slalom win at the World Cup level came in Soelden back in 2014, just like Robinson.
“Alice is going to be a really strong competitor for many years to come,” said Shiffrin. “You can see kind of the killer instinct in her eye, which I think pays huge dividends when you’re looking at starting in a World Cup race. To see someone young coming up with this fresh mindset that says, ‘Yea, I can do this. I don’t need to be intimidated,’ is a cool, refreshing outlook. I think she’s gonna inspire this upcoming generation to be and act the same way. Train hard, race hard, and not let fear or intimidation control you.”
On Saturday, that’s exactly what Robinson did. She focused on skiing full throttle and keeping her nerves “chill.”
“It was pretty close so I was thinking that I gotta try and go for it,” says Robinson. “I was a bit nervous for the second run but I just had to try and hold it to together and keep my nerves at bay. I had a feeling that I was really going to like this slope, and to be able to pull it off was awesome, but I’m still pretty shocked.”
A win at Soelden on Saturday may have come as a shock to the teen, but it is hard to believe her team was surprised. The Kiwi already has a significant support system building behind her. Both her coaches at the International Ski Racing Academy, Jeff Fergus and Chris Knight, guided the likes of Lindsey Vonn and Julia Mancuso in the earlier stages of their careers. Robinson’s recent history of strong finishes has not only caught the attention of the competition, it has also brought on a new slew of sponsors that wish to stake a claim on her potential as she rises to excellency on the World Cup. Robinson was recently backed by Vonn’s key sponsor, Red Bull. She is also receiving support from Vonn’s non-profit, the Lindsey Vonn Foundation, this season.
A win on the Rettenbach may have evaded Shiffrin yet again, but she is not the kind of athlete that expects to win them all. A podium in the season opener will do just fine. What she looks forward to most is the challenge. The fight that is overcoming challenges from competitors such as Robinson, and challenging herself to ski her best. Every season is a new opportunity, and while her last season may have been euphoric, she’s not looking back.
“We always start from a clean slate,” says Shiffrin. “One of the amazing things about ski racing and about sports is every year is a different year. You just kind of have to roll with it and just see what’s possible. It’s very unpredictable and that can be nerve-racking, but I’ve started to see the beauty in that as well.”
This season opener also highlighted strong challenges coming from the Norwegian women. Ragnhild Mowinckel’s absence in Soelden made room for some of her teammates to shine. Both Mina Fuerst Holtmann and Maria Therese Tviberg had career best finishes on Saturday. Tviberg, who started wearing bib 58, fought her way forward into 26th after the first run. She then laid down the fastest overall time in the second run, jumping 20 positions to land in sixth overall. Holtmann also made a significant jump from bib 19, eventually slotting herself into the top five in fourth place.
Nina O’Brien was the only other American able to put together both runs and score some World Cup points. She finished 21st overall, a career best for the four-time National Champion. Her teammates AJ Hurt and Keely Cashman did not qualify for a second run. Storm Klomhaus unfortunately got hooked up at the top of the course, and was unable to finish her first run.
Top 10 Results
- Alice Robinson (NZL) – 2:17.36 – Volkl/Marker/Dalbello
- Mikaela Shiffrin (USA) – +0.06 – Atomic/Atomic
- Tessa Worley (FRA) – +0.36 – Rossignol/Rossignol
- Mina Fuerst Holtmann (NOR) – +0.85 – Volkl/Marker/Dalbello
- Federica Brignone (ITA) – +0.87 – Rossignol/Rossignol
- Maria Therese Tviberg (NOR) – +1.03 – Head / Head
- Franziska Gritsch (AUT) – +1.41 – Head / Head
- Lara Gut-Behrami (SUI) – +1.46 – Head / Head
- Michelle Gisin (SUI) – +1.47 – Rossignol/Rossignol
- Ramona Siebenhofer (AUT) – +1.50 – Fischer/Fischer
For full race results, click here.