Mikaela Shiffrin came into Sunday’s slalom race in Lienz, Austria lighter than she came into the weekend. Not physically, but emotionally, as her giant slalom win on Saturday reflected a major shift in the young athlete’s perspective on herself and her ability, particularly in a discipline that she says is the most difficult discipline for her on the tour.
In 2011, the races in Lienz marked two major milestones in the then 16-year-old’s presence and mind. She ended the weekend on the slalom podium for the first time in her career, alongside childhood heroes Marlies Schild and Tina Maze. Her third-place finish at such a young age immediately denoted her as an up-and-coming force to be reckoned with. Yet just the day before in the giant slalom, Shiffrin had finished 56th, six and a half seconds out Austrian Anna Vieth (then Anna Fenninger), Federica Brignone, and Tessa Worley.
On that day, Shiffrin made it her goal to become a good GS skier. She, in her own words, had been appalled at the way she had skied. Since that weekend in Lienz, Shiffrin says she has felt a feeling of disgust with her skiing more than once, but none that stung as much as her 17th place finish in Courchevel last week.
“I think if anything it was more of a wake-up call that everybody is improving,” said Shiffrin. “I never expect to win races and I never expect to podium but I really can’t just come through the finish line and just cross my fingers that it might be good enough. I have to make it good enough and if I don’t then I might be in 17th place. It was a big deal in my own head and in my heart. What that one race represented to me was so much more.”
Her reaction to Sunday’s slalom win, in contrast to Saturday’s giant slalom win, was wildly different. Rather than collapsing into herself, appearing as if she couldn’t quite believe what was happening to her, she crossed the finish line strong and confident, cheering and pumping her fists, smiling ear to ear. Saturday, she reflected. Sunday, she celebrated.
“Yesterday, it was like what I’ve been working for since Courchevel, since making the decision not to go to Val d’Isere, and trying to get a couple of days of rest and some really solid focus, high-intensity training,” said Shiffrin. “It was all so I could come back in Lienz and be better. My entire career, since that race in Lienz, I have tried to be good enough, specifically in GS. It’s been a process and a bit of a love/hate relationship. So when I ski really good GS, it’s one of the greatest feelings ever. After Courchevel, I lost all of my confidence. It was a huge relief coming through the finish and knowing that the best skiing I could do was in fact good enough.”
“Slalom has been a bit of a different story in my career,” she continued. “It’s a lot more solid and stable. I was more just psyched today. When I can feel the good skiing I want to be doing, it’s always really really satisfying to come into the finish and see that it worked out. “
Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova had run just before Shiffrin and laid down an incredibly fast time on an incredibly fast course. After the first run, the pair were close in time, enough to create some uncertainty as to whether or not Shiffrin would continue her dominant streak in the slalom discipline. Vlhova skied through the finish over a second ahead of the third-place finisher, Michelle Gisin, feeling pretty confident Sunday might be the day she finally beat Shiffrin this season. Even Shiffrin, who had been watching from the start, commented that as she watched Vlhova ski, she thought there was no way she could ski the course as well and as fast as her competitor just had.
“When I came through the finish and saw the one second I thought ‘okay, maybe today I can beat Mikky’ but she’s skiing really well and she pushed really hard,” said Vlhova. “I want to win all the time, so I think it was normal that I was a little bit disappointed.”
Shiffrin’s slalom win inched her farther ahead in the record books. She now has 43 slalom wins to her name. Ingemar Stenmark is the only other athlete to have won more than 43 races in a single discipline (Lindsey Vonn has 43 individual wins in the downhill). Shiffrin, overall, now has 64 wins to her name across disciplines, putting her second to Vonn on the list of women who have won the most races on the World Cup tour. She is on track to surpass the slalom great, Marcel Hirscher, in the record books for most overall World Cup wins this season if she has four more victories in her. As a multi-discipline skier, Shiffrin has multiple opportunities to make that happen before World Finals in Cortina, Italy in March.
Looking ahead, Shiffrin plans on maintaining a sense of focus on preserving her energy, so that she skis to the best of her ability in every race she chooses to compete in. Managing both the speed and the technical circuit is no easy feat, nor is it easy to be competitive for the podium in every discipline.
Gisin proved on Sunday that Shiffrin is not the only female athlete that can be competitive for the podium across the board. She is one of the few women on the tour, other than Shiffrin and top-athletes such as Federica Brignone, that have been able to accomplish such a feat. A slalom podium was definitely a surprise to her, as this goal of performing well in the technical disciplines is new to Gisin as of this year. The 26-year-old is a podium regular in speed, with super-G, downhill, and alpine combined podiums under her belt. She now has a podium in slalom to add to her accolades.
“It’s a big goal that I started this year when I achieved my first top 10 in giant slalom and top five in giant slalom that I want to be on the podium in all disciplines and now it’s four or five,” said Gisin.
Her goal to make the podium in all disciplines remains, although she has acknowledged that it is a tough dream to achieve, particularly under the current stresses of the World Cup schedule. She looks forward to continued success, but not so much the intensity of the schedule that she must manage in order to make it.
“There are another 18 weeks of racing in a row which I think is way too much,” added Gisin. “I also think for the public it’s not that interesting if we race that many races. Of course, I can understand for all specialists who only have nine or 10 World Cup races a year. But I think we need to concentrate on how to solve this problem because I don’t think it’s the best solution to just put more races and more races to make our sport more attractive. I think it’s actually the opposite.”
Other significant finishes in Lienz on Sunday came from Canadian Laurence St. Germain, and once again the young Norwegian team that had four women finish in the top 25. St. Germain had her best World Cup slalom finish, breaking into the top 10 in ninth. Notable finishes from the Norwegians once again highlighted the talent of Thea Louise Stjernsund, a woman that has been capable of skiing from bibs above the 50s into the top 25 more than once this season thus far, as well as Mina Fuerst Holtmann, who earned yet another top 10 finish (her best in the slalom) amidst her break out season.
The next stop on the women’s tour is the slalom race to be held in Zagreb, Croatia on January 4th, 2020.
- Mikaela Shiffrin (USA): 1:48.89 – Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
- Petra Vlhova (SVK): +0.61 – Rossignol/Rossignol/Look
- Michelle Gisin (SUI): +1.72 – Rossignol/Rossignol/Look
- Katharina Liensberger (AUT): +1.88 – Rossignol/Rossignol/Look
- Christina Ackermann (GER): +1.91 – Rossignol/Rossignol/Look
- Lena Duerr (GER): +2.15 – Head/Head/Head
- Aline Danioth (SUI): +2.47 – Stoeckli/Lange
- Mina Fuerst Holtmann (NOR): +2.54 – Volkl/Marker/Dalbello
- Laurence St. Germain (CAN): +2.63 – Rossignol/Rossignol/Look
- Meta Hrovat (SLO): +2.70 – Salomon/Salomon
For full race results, click here.