The start of the 2014-15 slalom season began in Levi, Finland, with all eyes on defending overall slalom champ and Olympic gold medalist Mikaela Shiffrin, but it was 2013 overall winner Tina Maze who surprised many – and stole the show.
Maze, who started with bib 13, skied a flawless first run to overtake then-leader Frida Hansdotter and held on after a bobble on the pitch in the second run to take the win.
“I’m really happy I managed to finally finish the first run in first position and end up that way; that was always hard for me, and today I made it,” said Maze. “It’s good to be here to have this time to get ready for slalom. The hill was just super nice, and I gave my best so I’m really happy.”
Maze, whose results following her record-breaking season in 2013 have oftentimes been puzzling, had a disappointing 22nd-place result in Soelden to open the World Cup season. She clearly rebounded quickly with her decisive wire-to-wire win today. Charging out of the gate on run one, linking clean, quick turns across the long flat, Maze carried that skiing all the way down the pitch to the finish. Her second run was much of the same as she built on her lead at the first interval, but a mistake mid-way down the pitch made it appear that she might have trouble holding onto her lead. She recovered quickly and was able to make a fast transition from the steep to flat and finish for her fourth career slalom win.
“I worked hard this summer so I was not surprised how well I skied today but I was a bit surprised it got me in the lead. But I’m like that sometimes, when I’m feeling good I can ski well and get ahead,” she said.
Second-place finisher Hansdotter of Sweden was hoping to add to her lone World Cup victory which came last season in Kranjska Gora. She skied two superb runs to come down with the lead on the second run, but was unable to hold off the final challenger on the day.
“It feels great to have a great start of the season. I feel good and feel my skiing is quite consistent. I am also aware I have more to give so it will be fun to see what I can do this season. I hope I can aim at the slalom title, it’s certainly one of my goals to go home at the end of the season with the crystal globe,” she said after the race.
It is her 10th career second-place result, and while she was happy with her finish she felt at times that she had a hard time adjusting to the snow conditions.
“The base is not icy but it’s quite aggressive making it hard to let your skis go. In the first run there was also quite a bit of room from gate to gate so you had to find a good rhythm to keep your pace up,” she explained.
The Swedish team looked poised to have two on the podium with Hansdotter and Maria Pietilae-Holmner sitting second and third, respectively, after run one. But it was not to be as Austrian Kathrin Zettel moved up from fifth to third with a clean and aggressive second run to overtake both Pietilae-Holmner, who was pushed back to fourth, and Canadian Marie-Michele Gagnon, who sat fourth after run run but struggled down the pitch and dropped back to sixth.
The second run saw lots of movement with bunched times and excellent snow conditions allowing for significant moves. The snow conditions held up extremely well allowing for six starters outside of the top 30 to qualify for the second run, with three of those having bibs over 50. Manuela Moelgg made the most impressive move of the day as the former top-10 slalom skier battled from bib 52 to 27th on the first run and then made a huge leap to finish 12th on the day.
“I think it’s probably the most fair race of the whole year because the snow is good for anybody. Somebody can start 50th and come down in the top 5 because the snow is amazing. I think it’s a good opportunity for the young girls to make their first result or just have a really good feeling and feel like they can really do well on the World Cup,” said Gagnon of the conditions.
Lone Norwegian Nina Loeseth was able to capitalize on more reactionary skiing by some contenders in the field on the second run, including Gagnon, and she leapfrogged over the Canadian from eighth after the first run for a career-best finish at Levi in fifth.
The Americans will leave Levi with disappointment and some satisfaction. Shiffrin skied conservative on both runs on the steep pitch to finish 11th on the day. It is only her second result outside of the top 10 in slalom in the last two seasons, after a 12th place finish in Courchevel last December.
However, Resi Stiegler was noticeably pleased in the finish area with her result on the day and was the only other American to earn a second run. She skied two very solid runs to land in 18th, giving her a first result to build on the rest of the season. The other two U.S. starters, Paula Moltzan and Hailey Duke, did not qualify for the second run, but it was still the first time since 2009 that two Americans finished in the points in Levi.
Shiffrin, who was hoping to keep her slalom winning streak alive after claiming victories the final two races last season, appeared visibly upset in the finish of the second run when she came down with the lead, but by only by a few tenths. She needed to make up 1.71 seconds on Maze to take the win and her reaction told it all, as she knew she had not done enough.
Fatigue and jet lag are definite factors that could have played a role in the result. Shiffrin was delayed traveling to Finland and arrived late Thursday, only giving her one day of training to adjust to the snow conditions and time change. Whether or not that was a factor, she clearly did not look like the same skier who won on this hill last year by over a second and she made no excuses for her skiing.
“I’m not happy with my skiing today, not even a little bit – I don’t have any excuses, the hill was in perfect condition, I had amazing support, we were all fired up, and I skied far below my potential,” Shiffrin posted to Facebook. “So now I go back to the basics – always looking to improve, being positive, and having fun skiing fast. It’s a bit of a reality check. Those girls ripped today, and I’m so grateful to be in the company of such great competitors.”
The travel plans for the Americans were in stark contrast to that of Maze, who came early to Levi to prepare for the race, with the decision clearly paying dividends for her.
“It’s the best feeling in the world when you can have fun between the gates. It really helped to come to Levi a bit earlier as the conditions for training were great,” added Maze. “The training slope preparation, the winter temperatures and gym facilities here were ideal so I felt I was really able to prepare for the race.”
The women now move on to Aspen, Colo., for a slalom and GS on Nov. 29 and 30.
See more photos from today’s race here.
By Hank McKee
- Maze, Stoeckli/Lange/Atomic
- Hansdotter, Rossignol/Rossignol/Rossignol
- Zettel, Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
- Pietilae-Holmner, Rossignol/Rossignol/Rossignol
- Loeseth, Volkl/Lange/Marker
- Gagnon, Rossignol/Lange/Rossignol
- Strachova, Head/Head/Head
- M. Gisin, Rossignol/Rossignol/Rossignol
- Hosp, Fischer/Fischer/Fischer
- Daum, Rossignol/Rossignol/Rossignol
Women’s World Cup slalom, Levi, Finland, Nov. 15, 2014:
- It is the second race of the women’s 35 race World Cup schedule, the first of 11 slated slaloms – including city parallel events. … It is the 17 World Cup race hosted by Levi, all of them slaloms. … It is the 11th women’s slalom at the site, the seventh held in November.
- It is the 26th career World Cup win for Tina Maze … her fourth in slalom. … Her best previous result at Levi was third, Nov. 16, 2013. … It is the 48th Slovenian World Cup win, the 20th in slalom. … Winning margin is .39.
- It is the 12th career World Cup podium for Frida Hansdotter. All of them in slalom and 11 of them second-place finishes… (she also won at Kranjska Gora Feb. 27, 1014).
- It is the 47th career World Cup podium for Kathrin Zettel … her 23rd in slalom.
- Marie-Michele Gagnon matches her tenth-best career result. … She has finished sixth six times. … It is a career-best result for Nina Loeseth at Levi (previously seventh from last season) and her fourth top-5 result. … It is the 32nd best career World Cup result for Mikaela Shiffrin. … It is the 40th best result for Resi Stiegler. … It is the first time since 2009 the U.S. women have had more than one scorer at Levi.
- Shiffrin leads the World Cup overall standings 125-110 over Zettel. … Maze is third at 109. … Gagnon is 11th with 40pts.
- Austria leads the women’s Nations Cup 394-245 over Sweden. … The U.S. is third with 156 and Canada tenth with 47pts.
|Rank||Bib||FIS Code||Name||Year||Nation||Run 1||Run 2||Total Time||Diff.||FIS Points|
|14||7||705287||VELEZ ZUZULOVA Veronika||1984||SVK||59.92||57.59||1:57.51||+2.36||14.76|
|Did not qualify for 2nd run|
|Did not finish 2nd run|
|Did not finish 1st run|