Over the past couple of days in Killington, Vermont, close to 40,000 fans showed up over the course of the weekend to cheer on their favorite athletes on the women’s tech circuit. Fans could only see as far as seven gates from the finish during the slalom event Sunday morning, but that did not deter them from showing up in droves. 15,000 people braved the ice and rain to catch a glimpse of the fastest women in slalom chase victory. And the athletes put on a show.
Not only did crowd favorite Mikaela Shiffrin earn her and 45th career victory and third consecutive slalom at Killington (0.59 seconds ahead of second place finisher Petra Vlhova), but two other Americans also finished in the top 30 for the first time in a long time.
20-year-old Nina O’Brien was first out of the gate second run, followed by Paula Moltzan of the University of Vermont who started three racers behind her. Both Americans laid down some of the best runs of their careers. For O’Brien, it was her first time scoring World Cup points. She even got to sit in the “winner’s” chair for a run. By the time each racer finished, O’Brien ended up 23rd overall.
“It feels pretty awesome, definitely a breakthrough for me today,” she said smiling. “I’ve been trying to get into the top 30 for a while now. I started my first World Cup ski race a few years ago, and it’s not easy, but it feels really good.”
Moltzan who finished 17th overall will head back to class at the University of Vermont in the morning, alongside her UVM teammate Laurence St-Germain, who finished 14th for Canada. She was feeling both humbled and amazed, stoked to have finished so well on home soil with friends, family, and teammates there to cheer her on. She said the crowd’s energy played a major role in her performance and drove her to ski some of the best turns of her life.
“I know my top felt not that great but as soon as I came over, that last break over, you could hear the crowd and I was like ‘Alright, it’s go time. They’re all watching,’” she told Ski Racing, still out of breath as she made sense of what had happened. “The first run felt really connected really put together, the snow was awesome, and being able to run third is kind of next level for me and a surreal moment…having Nina go first and just watching her crush the top gates and then thinking “okay it’s my turn”. It was really fun.”
O’Brien and Moltzan were not the only Americans who were stunned by the crowds at Killington. Shiffrin was blown away by the support, getting emotional in her interview with the FIS after winning the race.
“You guys, I could hear you from the start,” she told fans. “That was the most unbelievable thing I have ever experienced, so thank you.”
In addition, she was thrilled for her teammates and excited to see more American women breaking into the top 30 after a particularly long dry spell.
“I’ve seen some flashes of brilliant skiing and I know they can take it to a level above that, so watch out” Shiffrin comment on O’Brien and Moltzan’s skiing. “We have some really really strong racers, and I don’t know it was just cool to have this kind of showing of Americans in the second run and the final board.”
The Slovakian Petra Vlhová, today’s second place finisher, and Frida Hansdotter of Sweden who finished third, also had great things to say about Killington and the infectious feeling that the crowd brings to the venue.
“It’s a special feeling when you cross the finish line and you see a green light and green numbers. I was very happy and emotional” explained Vlhová. “I felt like I was at home. I really like to race here because there is always a lot of people and they push everybody to finish. I’m looking forward to next year.”
“This is one of the most fun races because the crowd is amazing and they are cheering for everyone,” agreed Hansdotter. “So it’s so fun to race, and especially for the kids. I remember myself when I was a girl and you could meet World Cup racers, and it’s so fun to just get the inspiration. So hopefully they get some inspiration and will be the next generations of stars.”
After the weather did a complete 180° Sunday for the women’s slalom, and a night of warm temperatures and rain spoiled the coveted hero snow that made the giant slalom on Saturday so entertaining, the women had to fight through fog and rain to make it to the flip. The mountain operations team and the FIS opted to add chemicals to the course in hopes to keep the snow in good condition, but after the first run, 16 competitors did not finish. Three more racers DNF’d in the second run, and multiple costly mistakes were made by racers who we typically see finish in the top 20.
Despite less than ideal conditions, it’s clear that the women of the World Cup tech circuit were thrilled about race day. The Sunday slalom was a battle, but the athletes felt the energy of a rare and memorable crowd and charged forward to make this weekend at Killington something special for all.
- Mikaela Shiffrin (USA) 1:43.25 Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
- Petra Vlhová (SVK) +0.57 Rossignol/Rossignol/Look
- Frida Hansdotter (SWE) +1.08 Rossignol/Rossignol/Look
- Bernadette Schild (AUT) +1.41 Head/Head/Head
- Michelle Gisin (SUI) +1.93 Rossignol/Rossignol/Look
- Wendy Holdener (SUI) +2.37 Head/Head/Head
- Anna Swenn Larsson (SWE) +2.44 Head/Head/Head
- Katharina Gallhuber (AUT) +2.94 Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
- Katharina Truppe (AUT) +3.32 Fischer/Fischer/Fischer
- Lena Duerr (GER) +4.06 Head/Head/Head
Top 10 Results
For official FIS results, click here.