ZAGREB, Croatia – The winner of the ladies slalom at Sljeme is annually awarded the Snow Queen Trophy, receiving both a robe and crown, but Mikaela Shiffrin had to wait two years for her second coronation after last season’s race was relocated to Italy due to a lack of snow.
With her back-t0-back victories on the Croatian slope, this one by a stunning 1.68 seconds, Shiffrin became only the second female in race history to win two Snow Queen Trophies in a row, the other being her childhood idol Marlies Schild.
“That’s cool. There’s a lot of statistics that people are throwing at me lately, and I’m not really thinking too much about any of them. But after each race, when I hear that I broke some record or whatever, it’s a good feeling. It’s kind of the cherry on top of the cake,” Shiffrin acknowledged while donning her champagne-soaked robe in the finish area after the race.
In the midst of a characteristically clean first run for the teenager, she bobbled through the hairpin just before the final pitch but still managed to cross the finish line with a .80-second lead over Austrian Kathrin Zettel. Spectators wondered how big the lead would have been if not for the break in momentum.
“Sometimes I think those bobbles actually make me faster because they keep me from hooking turns and normally I would ski conservative,” Shiffrin reasoned. “As long as I stay in the course it’s OK, but it felt like really good skiing. I was watching a couple of the other girls before I went, and it looked like it was kind of hard to keep your feet moving. Just my goal that run was to keep my skis going.”
Since changing her setup between the Are and Kuehtai races as well as her focus, she’s also feeling changes in her skiing that translated well at Sljeme.
“I’m feeling more power out of each turn. It’s something I felt a lot last year and I’m getting back to it in Kuehtai and then the first run today. It’s really awesome, and I hope I don’t lose that ever again. That’s what I’m focusing on.”
The Austrian known for her calm, controlled, balanced skiing came closest to catching Shiffrin on the day, but it didn’t come so easily for the 28-year-old Zettel.
“It was more icy than I expected after the inspection, so a lot of girls had problems with the grip. But I had a good setup,” she said. “I love skiing but sometimes it’s really hard because I’m not always fit and sometimes I have pain with my hip, but I try to do my best. And yes, it’s wonderful when it works like that.”
The courses, which averaged one minute each, challenged skiers to take advantage of a more straightforward first run set and then keep up with a tunier, quicker-tempo second run set. Sarka Strachova, who sat third after the first run, was one of several skiers who lost her line in the second, and she ultimately failed to finish the course despite being on the verge of another impressive result to complement her podium from one week earlier.
Others took full advantage of the second run to move up in the rankings. Attacking Viking Nina Loeseth, fourth after the first run, capitalized on the second to claim her career-first podium and the first Norwegian World Cup podium for the women’s alpine team in 12 years.
“I was very nervous today. I skied out the last two races – I straddled – so I was like, oh, get your stuff together,” Loeseth said. “I don’t think I’ve ever been this happy. I love Zagreb from before, and I’ve had my best results here. I love the hill, the people, the snow, and to come down and see the light’s green – best feeling in the world.”
Despite weekly success on the men’s side, not since Stina Hofgard Nilsen won the 2002 Cortina giant slalom had a Norwegian lady secured a podium result.
“We have all worked so hard, so it was just a question of who was getting the first (podium) because I knew it was going to happen this year. We’ve been working really hard, and we have a great setup around us, so everything was in place to get good results and to ski well. So, I’m stoked,” Loeseth added.
Canadian Erin Mielzynski skied the third fastest second run to leap from 17th position and finish 6th overall, punching her ticket to February’s World Championships in Vail-Beaver Creek in the process, and her teammate Marie-Michele Gagnon moved up nine spots on the second run to finish seventh on the day.
Finishing fourth in Zagreb, Frida Hansdotter was able to hold onto the lead in the slalom standings for one more race by a single point over Shiffrin.
“I did a mistake on the top and I went a little bit back and didn’t really charge, so I’m a little bit back,” Hansdotter said after first run. “It’s always been a dream since I was a little kid, so for sure (leading the slalom standings) is fun but I know there’s a lot of girls charging me. So we will see what happens, but I will try to go as fast as I can every race till the end.”
Hansdotter’s teammate Sara Hector, better known for her GS results on the World Cup, attacked from bib 61 to finish 9th, while Andorran Mireia Gutierrez skied to 20th from bib 62 for the best result in the history of her nation (Vicky Grau finishing 26th in 2000 is the only other Andorran woman to ever score World Cup points).
Although the day went less well for the other American ladies, Resi Stiegler still collected another top 15 finish at the venue where she placed ninth in 2013.
“We had a really good session after Kuehtai. We got to stay after the race and kind of relax in Innsbruck – not bounce out of there. There was some good snow, we got a huge snowstorm, so it was really romantic and cozy coming into the new year. And we got really good skiing on some hard snow, which thankfully we did because the snow here is very hard,” she said.
Paula Moltzan did not complete the first run, skiing out just a handful of gates before the finish line, and Hailey Duke did not qualify for the second.
As the current World Cup stars departed the slope, the legends of yore took to a dual race down the lower half of the trail, battling each other for top spot just like they however many years ago. The podium at the uppermost echelon of the sport is a fleeting illusion, one that is achieved one day but may feel impossible to reach the very next.
Although her success over the past two weeks has been comforting after the early season fluctuations in her results, Shiffrin refuses to get complacent.
“I also know that it’s just as easy to take my foot off the gas, and anybody can beat me. I have to go, and I have to ski fast. That’s the bottom line.”
See more photos from today’s race here.
By Hank McKee
- Shiffrin, Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
- Zettel, Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
- Loeseth, Volkl/Lange/Marker
- Hansdotter, Rossignol/Rossignol/Rossignol
- Maze, Stoeckli/Lange/Atomic
- Mielzynski, Rossignol/Rossignol/Rossignol
- Gagnon, Rossignol/Lange/Rossignol
- Costazza, Rossignol/Rossignol/Rossignol
- Hector, Head/Head/Head
- Thalmann, Head/Head/Head
Women’s World Cup slalom, Zagreb, Croatia, Jan. 4, 2015:
- It is the first World Cup race of the calendar year … the 15th of 34 on the women’s 2015 schedule. … It is the fifth of ten scheduled slaloms with one cancellation. … It is the first of two women’s slaloms set for January. … It is the 16th World Cup slalom hosted by Zagreb, the tenth for women. … Mikaela Shiffrin is the defending champion. … It is the Vip Snow Queen Trophy Slalom.
- It is the 12th career World Cup win for Mikaela Shiffrin. … Her 11th in slalom. … The winning margin is 1.68seconds. … Third is 2.79 seconds out. … It is her second win at Zagreb having won a night slalom Jan. 4, 2013. … It is her third win of the season and second in slalom in consecutive races. … It is the eighth U.S. win of the season and the 278th U.S. win in World Cup history. … The 69th slalom.
- It is the 49th career World Cup podium for Kathrin Zettel … her 24th in slalom. … It is her fourth podium of the season and third in slalom. … It is the third time she has finished second in slalom at Zagreb, without a win.
- It is the first career World Cup podium for Nina Loeseth. … Her previous best result was a fourth also scored at Zagreb (Jan. 4, 2013). … Her previous best this season had been fifth at Levi Nov. 15.
- It is the fourth best career score for Erin Mielzynski and second best at Zagreb. … It is her best World Cup result since 2013 (at Zagreb). … Marie-Michele Gagnon matches her 11th best career World Cup score. … It is her best result at Zagreb. … It is the second best finish of the season for Resi Stiegler, bested only by an 11th at Aspen’s slalom Nov. 30.
- Tina Maze (fifth in race) maintains the lead of the World Cup overall standings 777-545 over Shiffrin. … Anna Fenninger (did not race) holds third at 487pts. … Lindsey Vonn (did not race) is seventh with 312pts. … Gagnon is the top Canadian in 21st place with 151pts.
- Frida Hansdotter (fourth in race) hangs on to the lead of the slalom standings by one point 320-319 as Shiffrin jumps from fourth to second. … Maze is third at 294pts. … Gagnon is in ninth with 132pts.
- Austria holds the lead of the women’s Nations Cup 2550-1426 over the U.S. … Sweden is third at 1269pts. … Canada is ninth with 373pts.
|Disqualified 2nd run|
|Did not qualify for 2nd run|
|Did not finish 2nd run|
|14||705287||VELEZ ZUZULOVA Veronika||1984||SVK|
|Did not finish 1st run|