SQUAW VALLEY, Calif. — Mikaela Shiffrin certainly delivered the goods on another sun soaked day in Olympic Valley as the slalom gold medalist turned on the jets in giant slalom action to win the U.S. Alpine Championships title by a healthy 1.88-second margin before answering questions from young fans and signing everything from helmets to hoodies in the finish area at Squaw Valley.
“This event was definitely a confidence booster, and it’s my first GS win in a while, so that’s nice. But even before coming into here I knew what I had to do with my GS and what to improve on, and I kind of wanted to use this as a tester to see if it works. So far, it’s good,” said Shiffrin. “It’s probably the toughest hill we’ve skied all year. It’s sweet; it has a lot of terrain and pretty much the whole thing is steep, so it was really cool to end on this hill and feel like I made some good turns. I also felt the turns where I could improve, so I know what I want to do with my next training session.”
After a second run surge, hometown favorite Julia Mancuso powered from ninth on the first run to finish on the podium in third. Canada’s Marie-Michele Gagnon, the girlfriend of U.S. Ski Team athlete Travis Ganong of Squaw Valley, gave Shiffrin the closest chase and finished second. Shiffrin opened up a 1.50-second lead on Gagnon in the first run, then put her practice to work in the second to extend the lead and claim the title.
“Second run I felt like I attacked a little more at the top, I let it go a little bit more. I’m just trying to figure out how to look for speed in GS like I do for slalom, so I’m getting closer,” noted Shiffrin who also knew she had to hold Gagnon at bay. “There’s definitely fear that the Canadians could take (the title). They did last year when I straddled in the slalom. We all have to love the Canadians, but they can’t win a U.S. Nationals title!”
Gagnon chose to attend U.S. Nationals because they were held in her boyfriend’s backyard and on a hill where she has only ever had the opportunity to freeski, never race. But she also knew the start list would have solid competition on it as well.
“That’s a really pushy hill. It’s great that they have nationals here. I was just standing in the start, and I thought, ‘Wow! I get to race in Squaw right now, where Travis is from’ because I’ve only ever been here for fun,” remarked Gagnon. “I found some motivation (for second run); I went freeskiing, and I was feeling a little more energetic. I’m just not there right now, but that’s ok. Second place is great because Mikaela is the best skier in the world coming up. It’s always good to measure against her.”
Gagnon also appreciated the opportunity to see how her giant slalom stacks up even at the end of the season.
“Julia and Mikaela are really great skiers. My nationals is fun too, but we’re not a very big GS crew, so it’s good to come here and be with girls who are in the top 7 and really measure yourself,” she concluded.
Mancuso was equally excited to race on the challenging Red Dog trail and meet some of the young up-and-coming talent from the U.S.
“I was supposed to come home (this season) and I didn’t because the snow was not ideal, so it was unfortunate. But right now it’s awesome. It’s pretty cool that we can race nationals on Red Dog,” said Mancuso. “I think it’s pretty cool that Tamara (McKinney’s) daughter is racing today, so that’s pretty awesome. It was a lot of fun to be here and see all the girls racing and having fun. I think that’s the most important thing. Nationals are about also skiing with the legends but having fun.”
Mancuso almost missed the opportunity to attack the second run and to move onto the podium when she didn’t have her skis quite in time.
“I got my skis 30 seconds before I left the start gate. I was like, ‘Course hold! Course hold!’ My technician was a little slow today,” she reflected through chuckles. “The snow was pretty tough the first run, so I wanted to just have a good run. I’ve been having a little bit of problems with my hips, so the end of the season I was definitely tired. I just found a little bit of energy for second run, so for sure it was better.”
Mancuso is one of the legends herself, but race winner Shiffrin was also the top junior on the day, followed by the U.S. Ski Team’s Foreste Peterson in fourth and Paula Moltzan in fifth. Isabella Wright of the National Training Group and TEAM Academy was the top U18 in 20th.
The men’s national title GS race which will feature Ted Ligety is set for Friday on the same trail.
By Hank McKee
It is the third U.S. National Championship for Mikaela Shiffrin, her first in GS… the other two came in slalom (2011 and 2012). It is the first U.S. National Championship podium for Canadian Marie-Michele Gagnon and the 33rd career National Championship podium for Julia Mancuso, the U.S. National Championship all-time win leader with 16.
|Rank||Bib||FIS Code||Name||Year||Nation||Run 1||Run 2||Total Time||Diff.||FIS Points|
|7||5||425916||FAUSA Chloe Margrethe||1992||NOR||1:16.89||1:18.84||2:35.73||+4.80||36.30|
|Did not start 1st run|
|Did not finish 2nd run|
|Did not finish 1st run|
|36||6535478||O BRIEN Audrey||1996||USA|
|31||6535773||O BRIEN Nina||1997||USA|
|9||425889||MYKLEBUST Karoline Soevik||1991||NOR|