The women’s World Championship races closed out in an eventful slalom race on Saturday that saw a wide range of emotions and a wide range of weather. Emotions ran high when American Mikaela Shiffrin realized she had pulled off what her, and her team, had thought to be impossible going into the second run – winning her fourth straight World Championship gold in the slalom.
Shiffrin had been diagnosed with a chest infection by her team doctor earlier in the day, and in between runs, her mother, Eileen, had told her that if she wanted to not start, it was always an option. But Shiffrin prevailed and fought hard throughout her second run to take the lead. She finished the race 0.58 seconds ahead of Sweden’s Anna Swenn-Larsson. Collapsing into the finish, she burst into tears.
“I was watching the girls after the first run and thinking, ‘I don’t know how much more I have to give, how much more I can push.’ And it wasn’t enough the first run, so I was really trying to overcome this doubt,” said Shiffrin, exasperated. “My team, my coaches, were helping me so much, to not only believe in myself but say ‘the reality is, you have to push for 60 seconds. Everything else doesn’t matter. If you can pull yourself together for that, then you’re done.’ My mom said to me before the second run that ‘you don’t have to do this’. But at what point do you say, no, I can’t do 60 seconds of skiing. I’m out here, I want to do it. Whether I win or not, I just wanted to try. And when she said you don’t have to, that’s when I was sure that I wanted to.”
Her teammates, Paula Moltzan and Nina O’Brien, also successfully finished both runs. After the first run, O’Brien sat in 25th overall, Moltzan sat in 21st. O’Brien had felt that she could push much harder than she had, and decided to give the course every ounce of energy she could muster. She had 0.50 seconds ahead of the split when she pushed too hard and skied out. She got back in the course and finished anyway, overall placing in 34th. Moltzan jumped forward a few more spots to finish 18th.
Sweden’s Swenn-Larsson had not been racing consistently on the World Cup just two years ago. After many races of struggling to finish, she returned to the Europa Cup to find her ski legs again. The 2018/19 World Cup season has proven to be her come-up season. She thought she had earned the first World Cup podium of her career in Flachau until further review showed that she had unknowingly straddled during her run. Then in Maribor, she finished second. The 27-year-old carried her momentum into World Championships and earned a medal for the first time in her career.
“It’s, of course, something [I] have dreamed about since you were small. Now I have to keep on going and I’m really motivated to keep going even faster,” she said. “I was really sad in Flachau when I thought I had a podium, and I had finally been able to get back after 5 years. I have a perfect and incredible team that supported me, and family and friends, and they really believed in me so I’ve just kept in fighting.”
She crossed the finish to a roaring arena. The women’s slalom was by far the largest crowd Are had seen all week. Larsson is not used to getting a lot of media attention, but on Saturday she was the star of the show in the finish. She said in the start house, the energy of the crowd was palpable, and the feeling she had as she pushed past the wand is a feeling she will never experience again.
Petra Vlhova also found her way onto the podium, after finishing fifth in the first run, 0.56 seconds back from first run leader Wendy Holdener. During her second run, she charged to overcome the previous finishers by over a second, something she could not believe. She had not been able to sleep the last few days and struggled to feel motivated.
When Wendy Holdener made her mistake in the second run, and the final podium was determined, Vlhova sat stunned. Early this week, she became the first Slovakian alpine skier, male or female, to win a gold medal at the World Championships when she won in the giant slalom on Thursday. Then she won the silver in alpine combined on Friday. Vlhova now has a gold, a silver, and a bronze World Championship medal.
“Today was one of the most difficult slalom for me because after first run I was not so fast. Before second run it was not easy to be at the start. It was a tough day and I’m happy that it’s done because I was tired,” said Vlhova. “I couldn’t believe I was first because I had really bad feelings. I started to look at the screen and I saw one and one second, and I thought, ‘this is impossible.’ So my face was an unhappy face. But then I started to realize it was possible and it changed.”
Notably absent from the podium this week were the Austrian women. Four of the top ten in Saturday’s slalom were Austrians, led by Katharina Liensberger in fourth. The Austrian speed team, which has been seeding a minimum of four women in each speed event so far this season, and typically takes a top three, was also unable to find the podium. The best result was fourth for Stephanie Venier in the downhill and fourth for Ramona Siebenhofer in the alpine combined. This is the first time the Austrian’s have not podiumed in a World Championship competition since 1982.
- Mikaela Shiffrin (USA): 1:57.05 – Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
- Anna Swenn-Larsson (SWE): +0.58 –Head/Head/Head
- Petra Vlhova (SVK): +1.03 –Rossignol/Rossignol/Look
- Katharina Liensberger (AUT): +1.43 –Rossignol/Rossignol/Look
- Frida Hansdotter (SWE): +2.39 –Rossignol/Rossignol/Look
- Laurence St. Germain (CAN): +2.60 –Rossignol/Rossignol/Look
- Katharina Huber (AUT): +2.80 –Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
- Katharina Truppe (AUT): +2.93 –Fischer/Fischer/Fischer
- Bernadette Schild (AUT): +3.41 – Head/Head/Head
- Erin Mielzynski (CAN): +3.54 –Rossignol/Rossignol/Look