Mikaela Shiffrin simply needed to finish her run in reasonably competitive fashion to pick up minimum points and secure her third straight slalom title. But that’s not nearly as fun as winning.
Shiffrin’s sights were set on the top step of the podium in Saturday’s slalom at World Cup Finals in Meribel, France. It could have been considered a risky tactic, as Sweden’s Frida Hansdotter who was 90 points back in the slalom standings, put the pressure on with the fastest first run. The only scenario in which Shiffrin would miss the globe is if she had finished outside the top 15 and Hansdotter had won, which was a possibility after the first run Saturday.
Meribel is a short, fairly basic hill with medium pitch and neither set had any major tricks, but the weather changed dramatically overnight. Clouds rolled in, resulting in sugary and soft snow conditions. Officials salted twice before first run, and the course held up well despite rising temperatures.
Kicking out second to last in the second run, Shiffrin held a half-second advantage over then-leader Veronika Zuzulova. The young American appeared to back off ever so slightly in the middle part of the course, dropping to as much as two-tenths of a second behind Zuzulova, but in typical Shiffrin fashion hammered the final turns of the race to retake a remarkable four-tenths lead.
With only Hansdotter left to ski, the globe was already locked up for Shiffrin; only bragging rights for the day’s race remained on the line. The Swede, kicking out with a slim 0.07-second advantage, appeared to ski with greater risk compared to her American rival, expanding her lead through the first three splits to as much as 0.34 seconds. However, faulty skiing through the final flush juxtaposed with the tactfulness of Shiffrin through that section resulted in a dramatic turn of events: Hansdotter crossed the finish line with a 0.05-second deficit, once again playing second fiddle to Shiffrin. Zuzulova hung on to third.
“(Frida) put a lot of pressure on me. I expected that from her,” said Shiffrin. “She’s a really tough fighter. I can learn a lot from her every race, especially at the beginning of the season — she was so fast. I had to pull a lot out of myself that second run to beat her by a little bit. You saw it, on the top she was just crushing.”
Shiffrin ultimately finished the season with a 110-point margin of victory over Hansdotter. Tina Maze rounded out the top three, a distant 240 points back.
“I definitely didn’t want to throw everything away. I wanted to put something on the limit,” Shiffrin said. “Down at the bottom when it got flatter I knew I could really, really push, and I knew that I had to in order to come away with this today.”
Of nearly equal importance to the race for the slalom title was the circumstances surrounding to the ever-tightening overall globe. In an effort to pick up a few critical points, tour leader Anna Fenninger started her first World Cup slalom since 2011 with no training in the days before the race. Fenninger had held just a 32-point lead after the speed events earlier in the week, and she decided to rely on sheer athleticism to land in the top 15 after opting to train GS on Friday.
Despite a strong effort and some halfway decent slalom skiing by the Austrian, her 23rd-place result is good enough for a goose egg at World Cup Finals. Maze, with slalom very much in her wheelhouse, skied to a solid fourth-place result. The overall champ from two seasons ago picked up 50 points to take a narrow 18-point lead heading into the final race of the season, Sunday’s giant slalom.
“Tomorrow will be the deciding race, and I hope I can bring my best GS of the season,” said Maze. “In slalom, it is always tricky. You have to take a lot of risk and not turn too much. Making a mistake in Maribor and not feeling so healthy in Are, it was really tough, but I did a great job.”
View more photos from the race here.
By Hank McKee
- Shiffrin, Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
- Hansdotter, Rossignol/Rossignol/Rossignol
- Velez Zuzulova, Salomon/Salomon/Salomon
- Maze, Stoeckli/Lange/Atomic
- Strachova, Fischer/Fischer/Fischer
- Noens, Salomon/Salomon/Salomon
- Mougel, Rossignol/Rossignol/Rossignol
- Mielzynski, Rossignol/Rossignol/Rossignol
- Thalmann, Head/Head/Head
- Hosp, Fischer/Fischer/Fischer
Women’s World Cup slalom, Meribel, France, March 21, 2015:
- It is the 33rd race of the women’s 34 race schedule. … The 11th slalom of the women’s calendar… The 10th held. … It is the 13th World Cup race hosted at Meribel … the second slalom. … It is the third women’s race of four set for World Cup Finals. … It is an invitational race with just 15 skiers earning points.
- It is the 15th career World Cup win for Mikaela Shiffrin … her 14th in slalom. … It is her seventh win of the season including the slalom gold medal at World Championships. … It is the 287th U.S. World Cup win and 19th of the season including two from World Championships. … The winning margin is .05 of a second. … Top six finishers are within the same second.
- It is the 16th World Cup podium placing for Frida Hansdotter. … The 13th time she has placed second. … It is her sixth podium of the season including a silver medal at World Championships.
- It is the 19th career World Cup podium for Veronika Velez Zuzulova. … Her third of the season all in the last three slaloms of the season.
- It is the eighth career World Cup top 10 for Erin Mielzynski … her third of the season.
- Tina Maze (fourth in race) regains the lead of the World Cup overall standings 1471-1453 over Anna Fenninger (23rd in race). … Lindsey Vonn (did not race) is third with 1042pts… Mikaela Shiffrin is fourth with 1000pts.
- Shiffrin wins her third straight slalom globe 679-569 over Frida Hansdotter. … Tina Maze is third with 439pts.
- Other North Americans in the final slalom standings include: Marie-Michele Gagnon 11th with 186pts; Erin Mielzynski 14th with 153pts; Resi Stiegler 22nd with 75pts.
- Austria leads the women’s Nations Cup standings 5669-3078 over the U.S. … Italy is third with 2627pts and Canada ninth with 760pts.
|3||8||705287||VELEZ ZUZULOVA Veronika||1984||SVK||46.83||47.65||1:34.48||+0.40||3.06|
|Did not finish 2nd run|