Petra Vlhova is not typically denoted as a racer to watch when it comes to the giant slalom. Occasionally she has finished in the top 10, but never in the top five. The Slovakian has made a name for herself in the slalom event, where she has been the only woman to unseat Mikaela Shiffrin from the top of the podium since the start of last season. So far in 2018/19, Vlhova has finished in second place behind Shiffrin in all three slalom World Cup races. Over the course of her career, she has yet to podium in the giant slalom.
But on Friday, December 28th, the 23-year-old had a breakthrough. Not only did Vlhova podium in Semmering, Austria, she won the whole show for the first time in Slovakian history. Her first ever win in giant slalom came after laying down an untouchable total time. Shiffrin had been leading the group after run one by a few hundredths of a second, Vlhova was only six hundredths behind in fourth.
She knew she had made a few mistakes during the first run that weighed her down and was determined to give everything she had to finally stand on the top of the podium. In the end, Vlhova laid down the second fastest time on run two to secure the win.
“Second run I said, ‘okay, now is my time’. So I tried to go full gas without break and I’m on the podium for the first time and also the first victory in GS, so I think it’s the best day ever,” Vlhova exclaimed in the finish.
With Bratislava only an hour away, hoards of fans made the commute from the Slovakian capital to Semmering to cheer on Vlhova. Her hometown of Liptovsky Mikulas, Slovakia is farther away, but her parents also made the commute to watch their daughter ski for the first time this season. The historical win in the presence of fans and family made her victory even sweeter.
“I’m really happy that I won here with a lot of fans from Slovakia and also my parents are here,” said Vlhova. “It’s a good day.”
Viktoria Rebensburg of Germany recorded the fastest time in the second run, a run that caused her to jump eight places in the standings to finish on the podium in second. Despite her speed, it wasn’t enough to overcome the lead Vlhova had from the first run and Vlhova finished the race 0.45 seconds ahead.
Rebensburg has won 14 giant slalom races on the World Cup tour, ranking her third all-time in a tie with Anita Wachter, Tina Maze, and Lise-Marie Morerod. So sitting in tenth after the first run, 0.64 seconds out from Shiffrin (who was leading at the time) was an abnormal position for the German woman to find herself. After a shaky first go at the Semmering track, she drove forward confidently to ski the fastest second run in the field.
Third place finisher Tessa Worley also came from behind to earn her spot on the podium. After the first run, she was in seventh and although she appeared to struggle in her second run, she kept it together enough squeeze ahead of Austrian Stephanie Brunner by four hundredths to finish in third.
American Mikaela Shiffrin broke her five-race winning streak, finishing off the podium in fifth place. Shiffrin had barely been in the lead after run one, but a few mistakes too many caused her to fall behind in the second run. Worley’s total time was only six-hundredths of a second faster than Shiffrin, but the top of the field was so stacked on Friday that speed had to be found at every opportunity.
“I think sometimes the biggest mistake you can make is pushing the wrong way,” Shiffrin said about her skiing. “It’s not a mistake that’s obvious to the eye, but you can kind of feel it – with every turn you’re just losing a little bit of speed because your skis aren’t coming around quite as fast so you can’t carry the speed.”
Despite the constant battle this season between her and Vlhova in the slalom, Shiffrin sent her congratulations to the Slovak on a great race and a well-deserved win.
“The way that she’s been skiing, and the way she skied at Killington, I could see it already,” she said. “She’s was having some really, really good turns. I was more surprised by Courchevel, but even then she was right there. That’s super cool. Congratulations.”
Fellow Americans AJ Hurt and Nina O’Brien both did not finish their first runs.
The women of the Wolrd Cup tech circuit will compete in the slalom event on Saturday in Semmering, starting at 10:30 am CET.
2.Viktoria Rebensburg (GER): +0.45 – Stoeckli/Stoeckli/Lange
4. Stephanie Brunner (AUT): +0.64 – Head/Head/Head
5. Mikaela Shiffrin (USA): +0.66 – Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
7. Ricarda Haaser (AUT): +0.90 – Salomon/Salomon/Salomon
8. Anna Veith (AUT): +0.94 – Head/Head/Head
9. Ragnhild Mowinckel (NOR): +1.00 – Head/Head/Head
10. Marta Bassino (ITA): +1.51 – Fischer/Fischer/Fischer
For official FIS results, click here.