The moment Petra Vlhova has been waiting for all season finally arrived on Tuesday in the Flachau night slalom. The 23-year-old Slovakian rose to the occasion, to stand on top of the podium in a World Cup slalom for the first time since Lenzerheide in January of 2018.
Over the course of 2018, Vlhova has solidified her position as “Slalom Queen” Mikaela Shiffrin’s biggest threat to a win across multiple disciplines. She won in the Oslo city event, she won the giant slalom in Semmering, but she had yet to unseat the winningest woman in slalom from her throne. After finishing in second behind Shiffrin for the first five slalom races of the season, a win in front of hoards of Slovakian fans was just what Vlhova needed.
“This is my best day ever,” said Vlhova. “I spoke with my coach before the second run and said ‘now is our time’. Finally, I beat Mikaela.”
Shiffrin had a lead on Vlhova of 0.31 seconds going into the second run, but a few tiny mistakes were enough to set her final time back by 0.15 seconds. Despite breaking her seven-win streak in the slalom, Shiffrin was congratulatory of her competitor, a racer who she often notes as the person who pushes her to ski her best each time they meet.
“It’s a bit mixed emotions. Ya, 15 hundredths is so small, and there’s some disappointment. But I’ve also been a small amount like that in the green light ahead of Petra. She’s been skiing really well, really strong, aggressive, disciplined, and I knew that I can’t win every race,” said Shiffrin. “Every time I’m there, she’s also right there. I knew the second run she was going to go like crazy, she wasn’t far behind and I had to be really aggressive and I had a few mistakes here and there and it cost some time. It was a big fight and she’s doing a really great job so I have to say congrats, but it’s motivation too.”
Going into another long series of races, Shiffrin feels the pressure to make some decisions regarding her schedule and how much energy she has to compete in all disciplines. With World Championships just around the corner, and Vlhova stepping on the gas in the technical events, Shiffrin knows it’s time to figure out what she wants out of the rest of the season.
“To know that she’s so strong in slalom, so strong in giant slalom, and not really doing speed, then I have to decide what’s more important,” said Shiffrin. “Do I want to be able to do speed, slalom, GS, or do I want to be really strong in slalom and GS, and how does that fit into the program leading into World Championships. How I can train, how I can manage the energy, and how I can manage the motivation because for sure tonight, I’m dead. We have a short bit of time for some rest and some training before Kronplatz and that’s really good because if I had to race tomorrow I don’t think I could do it.”
Immediately after the second run, Anna Swenn Larsson of Sweden appeared to be the last woman on the podium, which would have been the second of her career. Unfortunately for Larsson, she was disqualified after officials realized she had unknowingly straddled a gate through a delay in the course. After her disqualification, Austria’s Katharina Liensberger moved into third, her first career podium.
Larsson’s disqualification opened the door for other athletes in the top of the field to have some notable finishes as well. France’s Nastasia Noens has not seen the top ten since 2016, and Switzerland’s Aline Danioth had her first top ten finish in her career.
American Paula Moltzan earned her career-best finish of 12th after starting in bib 37. Flachau is the 24-year-old’s final race on the World Cup tour for the foreseeable future. After not finishing in Zagreb earlier in the week, Moltzan was adamant that her last race would be her best.
“After first run I was not thrilled with my skiing but still happy to be in to second run. But second run I kind of went all out, I put my heart on the line and it paid off,” said Moltzan.
Moltzan, who is currently funding her own travel and participation in the World Cup, will head back to the states to compete for her college ski team, the University of Vermont Catamounts. She starts class again on Monday, January 14th.
Next, the women’s tour will stop in St. Anton, Austria for speed events on January 12th and 13th, if conditions allow. Thursday’s scheduled downhill training has already been canceled due to an excess of snow.
2. Mikaela Shiffrin (USA): +0.15 – Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
4. Wendy Holdener (SUI): +1.65 – Head/Head/Head
8. Katharina Truppe (AUT): +3.83 – Fischer/Fischer/Fischer
9. Nastasia Noens (FRA): +3.96 – Salomon/Salomon/Salomon
10. Aline Danioth (SUI): +4.17 – Stoeckli
For full FIS results, click here.