Petra Vlhova once again dominated the night slalom, this time under the lights in Flachau, Austria. Her win over Sweden’s Anna Swenn Larsson and USA’s Mikaela Shiffrin proved to be an emotional one. Vlhova’s cheers as she skied into the finish were drowned out by the swarms of Slovakian fans that had made the trip to Flachau to support their leading lady in alpine ski racing. Vlhova won the first run by 0.60 seconds, which proved to be enough to hang on to the win over Swenn Larsson when her second run did not go as planned.
The first run, set by Christian Thoma of team Sweden, was straighter than the second course set by team USA’s Mike Day — Shiffrin’s coach. Swenn Larsson and Switzerland’s Wendy Holdener took to the second course set well. Both women set the fastest times on run two, allowing them to advance in the final standings. For Swenn Larsson, being the fastest woman in the second run meant standing on the second step of the podium. Holdener finished fourth overall. Vlhova, on the other hand, was not a huge fan of her second run and the course set in particular.
“I knew after first run that [Day] will set a really something that I don’t like because I don’t like this kind of course that is lot of turning,” Vlhova said after the race. “And they know that I find it more difficult. But I tried to fight with this course anyway, and I did it. So it was really tough day for me. First run I did very well, and second run was difficult because I did lot of mistakes and at the end I won.”
Despite not feeling totally comfortable, Vlhova still skied fast enough to earn the win in front of a multitude of Slovakian fans. Having fought hard to make it through what she said was a mistake-ridden second run, Vlhova was quite emotional in the finish. She said it felt like home. Shiffrin, who finished third 0.43 seconds off of Vlhova, was just as emotional. After the awards ceremony the pair exchanged a hug, but no words during the embrace.
“She said nothing because she had lot of emotions as me. And for both of us, we had lot of emotions and it was really nice because I have really big respect. For me, she’s champion,” explained Vlhova. “Today I won and she was third and of course, I know that she’s angry because she wants to always win but it’s like this. It’s good to have Miki close to me because she push me to more. I think it’s really important for skiing, for our sport, to have two girls like this.”
In reaction to Shiffrin’s emotions, the Austrian representative emceeing the post-race press conference led Shifrin’s interview by saying, “I used to be a tough guy until today, but when I watched you I almost had tears in my eyes. Thank you for your emotions, it was so great to watch.”
In response, Shiffrin kept Tuesday’s post-race press conference short and sweet. She had one point to make before heading back to her hotel to retire for the evening.
“The first thing I wanted to say is, I think everybody probably knows that my coach [Mike Day] set the second course. And I think everybody was thinking he would try and set a course against Petra,” said Shiffrin. “I wanted to be clear about this, and maybe the most important thing I wanted to say tonight is we don’t do that. We don’t play those games.”
Shiffrin went on to say that Vlhova’s win was well-deserved, a testament to her skiing.
“You can’t set a course against her right now, because her skiing is the best,” Shiffrin added. “So she’s able to do any course and handle it the way she needs to.”
These emotional exchanges between Vlhova and Shiffrin continue to draw questions from media regarding their personal relationship, as they continue to battle in the technical disciplines, particularly in the slalom. Although Vlhova has come out with the win the past two races, Shiffrin still leads the slalom standings by 80 points and the overall standings by 273 points.
“[Mikaela] gets a lot of questions about a relationship between us,” explained Vlhova. “We are both on the top and I want to have friendly relationships with her but we can’t because we are on the top and everybody wants to win. Maybe if I am back or if she’s back maybe we can be friends, but in this way, I think it’s impossible.”
Swenn Larsson’s second-place finish was huge for the Swede, after some drama last season when she thought she ended the day on the podium, but in fact, was disqualified. Winning the second run, and finishing second in the race by only 0.10 seconds was almost like sweet revenge for Swenn Larsson against the Flachau night slalom.
“There’s a lot of questions about last year, but I was not thinking about it today. I’m super happy with my second place and to show that I can be as fast as them is important for me,” she said.
In addition to Shiffrin, the Americans had two other women finish in the points in Flachau. Both had solid first runs, followed by some big mistakes in their second runs.
Paula Moltzan had been sitting in 11th overall. Flachau is a venue that typically has suited her well, given the night slalom reminds her of her hometown hill, Buck Hill in Minnesota. However, in the second run, she lost her outside ski at the top of the course, setting herself back quite a bit. Yet Moltzan kept charging to make up time at the bottom of course and finished the day 23rd overall.
“I’m really happy to have my first points of the new year, that’s just a confidence boost,” said Moltzan. “I think first run is also a confidence boost. Obviously my major mistake at like the tenth gate on the second run was not it but I made up time on the way down so I know the speeds there.”
Nina O’Brien had been sitting in 19th position after the first run. Her mistake came in the middle section of the course, big enough to tack on a couple of seconds to her time. She ended the day in 29th, but still scored her first slalom points of the season.
“I feel like I showed myself my first run, and that I can be in there and that my good skiing is fast, which is nice to see because it’s been a bit of a struggle on the World Cup this year,” said O’Brien. “I still have a lot to learn, and my second run wasn’t it but we’ll get there.”
The next destination on the World Cup tour for the women competing on the technical side of the circuit is Sestriere, Italy. Saturday, January 18th will host a giant slalom race. Sunday, January 19th will host a parallel slalom event.
- Petra Vlhova (SVK): 1:53.65
- Anna Swenn Larsson (SWE): +0.10
- Mikaela Shiffrin (USA): +0.43
- Wendy Holdener (SUI): +0.50
- Katharina Liensberger (AUT): +0.80
- Katharina Truppe (AUT): +1.61
- Nina Haver-Loeseth (NOR): +2.24
- Chiara Mair (AUT): +2.48
- Michelle Gisin (SUI):+2.60
- Laurence St. Germain (CAN): +2.82
For full race results, click here.