Things sure have changed since the last race held in Are, Sweden, back in early December. Mikaela Shiffrin was in the midst of the biggest “slump” of her career with a fourth place in the slalom, making it five straight races without a podium — three of those in slalom. Questions of what was wrong with Shiffrin were thrown around despite the fact that she only had one result outside of the top 10, an 11th in the opening slalom in Levi, Finland.
Fast forward three months and Shiffrin has found the right equipment setup, has a new coach, and now has won four of the last five World Cup slaloms, including today in Are by an astonishing 1.41 seconds over Veronika Velez Zuzulova. Sarka Strachova was 2.15 seconds back in third.
“It felt really good, everything was right in place and I had a little bit of nerves in the start, but kind of good adrenaline nerves, so it felt like somebody was chasing me the whole way down and I tried to just keep getting faster so that’s a good sign,” said Shiffrin.
Since that December day in Are when she finished fourth, Shiffrin has been a different skier. She has finished no worse than third in any slalom race and has gone from a distant contender in the overall slalom standings to leading by 90 points with one race remaining.
Today, under sunny skies on a warm day, Shiffrin skied a flawless first run on an open and turny course, set by her coach, to take a huge advantage of 0.89 seconds over Strachova. The second run was set slightly tighter and quicker on salted snow, but neither bothered Shiffrin. She lost a bit of her lead at the first interval over Zuzulova, but as she always seems to do, Shiffrin found another gear and danced her way down the deteriorating bottom half of the course, arcing through sections that others had made to look difficult, and came through the finish with the massive 1.41-second advantage to take her fifth win of the season and fourth in slalom.
“Sometimes my nerves are worse if I have a big lead because I feel like something is going to go wrong, it has to go wrong,” admitted Shiffrin immediately following the race. “So I still have a little bit of adrenaline in my legs and I think that helped me.”
The podium finish was an exact replica of the previous slalom race in Maribor, Slovenia, three weeks ago. Zuzulova has regained her confidence of two seasons ago, when she won the first World Cup race of her long career. A knee injury ended her season before it began last year and this season she started off slow, but through each race it has been clear her momentum was building. After finishing just off the podium at World Championships in Vail-Beaver Creek, Zuzulova has finished runner-up to Shiffrin in the last two World Cup slaloms. Her clean, quick and precise skiing on run two allowed her to flip positions with Strachova from run one and clearly prove that she is officially back from her injury.
“I have never made two podiums in a row like this,” commented Zuzulova. “It was always with some breaks in-between. For sure I am very happy because I had a really tough start to the season with knee problems. The confidence is coming back, and I can enjoy every race now.”
Strachova is in somewhat of a comeback season herself. The 2007 World Champion on the same hill in Are has found herself on three World Cup podiums this season and has not finished outside the top 10 in all the races in which she has found the finish line. Brain surgery to remove a benign tumor in 2012 left her questioning if she would return to ski racing, much less to the podium. But she has remarkably rebounded. Her smooth style on the soft and grooved course allowed her to squeak in front of Nastasia Noens of France, who finished fourth, for her second-straight third place World Cup result.
The Canadians had high hopes for two in the top 10 when Marie-Michele Gagnon, sitting in 14th after run one, laid down the second fastest second run to move all the way up to fifth. Erin Mielzynski was in prime position after run one, in fourth, but over skied the quick and straight-forward set. Without any major mistakes, she dropped all the way back to 17th.
Of the two remaining Americans in the race, recent world junior slalom champion Paula Moltzan just missed out on her first World Cup second run, finishing in the unlucky 31st position. Hailey Duke, who has said she was racing in her final World Cup, also did not qualify for a second run.
Tina Maze, who yesterday lost the overall World Cup lead to Anna Fenninger for the first time since early December, was hoping to take advantage of the one event in which Fenninger does not participate. Sitting in ninth after run one, but easily within striking distance of the podium, Maze skied as she did yesterday on run two — passively and conservatively. It almost appeared as if she wanted to finish just to get points rather than regain the lead. She ultimately was bumped all the way back to 16th, gaining only 15 points on Fenninger. She now sits 30 points behind with four races to go.
Shiffrin and the rest of the women who finished in the top 25 in each of the discipline standings will now move on to Meribel, France, for World Cup Finals. Shiffrin will be looking to defend her slalom globe for the third consecutive season. She holds a 90-point advantage over Frida Hansdotter, who finished sixth today. The only possible scenario for Shiffrin to lose the globe would be a victory by Hansdotter and no points for Shiffrin.
At 20 years of age, Shiffrin has already accomplished what many are lucky to earn in a career: two World Championship gold medals, an Olympic gold medal, two slalom globes, and now 14 World Cup wins. She will hope to add to that list next weekend as the World Cup season wraps up in Meribel.
“I’m trying to just take each run like it’s my last run and putting all of my heart into it and ski my very fastest and see what happens,” said Shiffrin.
See more photos from this race here.
By Hank McKee
1 Shiffrin, Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
2 Velez Zuzulova, Salomon/Salomon/Salomon
3 Strachova, Fischer/Fischer/Fischer
4 Noens, Salomon/Salomon/Salomon
6 Hansdotter, Rossignol/Rossignol/Rossignol
7 Holdener, Head/Head/Head
8 Thalmann, Head/Head/Head
9 Swenn-Larsson, Head/Head/Head
9 Schild, Rossignol/Rossignol/Rossignol
Women’s World Cup slalom, Are, Sweden, March 14, 2015:
- It is the 30th of 34 races on the women’s World Cup schedule with two cancellations. … It is the 10th of 11 scheduled slaloms. … The ninth of 10 remaining on the slate. … It is the 95th World Cup race set at Are … the 29th slalom. … Mikaela Shiffrin is the defending champion, but Maria Pietilae-Holmner won the most recent slalom at the site in December.
- It is the 14th career World Cup win for Mikaela Shiffin … the 13th in slalom. … It is the 284th U.S. World Cup win and the 71st in slalom. … Shiffrin leads all U.S. skiers in slalom wins. It is her sixth victory of the season including the slalom gold medal at World Championships. The winning margin is 1.41 seconds. … Top two finishers are within two seconds.
- It is the 18th career World Cup podium placing for Veronika Velez Zuzulova … her second of the season.
- It is the 12th career World Cup podium for Sarka Strachova, her fourth of the season.
- It is the 11th career World Cup top five for Marie-Michele Gagnon … her second of the season and the second this month. … It is the 18th top 20 World Cup placing for Erin Mielzynski … her sixth of the season.
- Anna Fenninger (did not race) holds he lead of the World Cup overall standings 134-1311 over Tina Maze (16th in race). … Mikaela Shiffrin is third with 900pts. … Lindsey Vonn (did not race) holds fourth at 842pts.
- Shiffrin holds the lead of the slalom standings 579-489 over Frida Hansdotter (sixth in race) with one race remaining. … Marie-Michele Gagnon is 11th in slalom with 186pts.
|2||14||705287||VELEZ ZUZULOVA Veronika||1984||SVK||52.80||53.17||1:45.97||+1.41||9.71|
|Did not qualify for 2nd run|
|Did not finish 2nd run|
|Did not finish 1st run|