Not that there were many doubters out there, but American phenom Mikaela Shiffrin proved her performance in Lienz last season wasn’t a fluke, as she cruised to her second career World Cup podium result: third place at the slalom opener in Levi, Finland Saturday.
The Arctic course was tough and fast with top skiers, including Marilies Schild and Kathrin Zettel, skiing out in the first run.
There was no sign of nerves for the 17-year-old Shiffrin, as she kicked out of the second run in third position behind Tanja Poutainen and Maria Hoefl-Riesch. Shiffrin skied with a light touch where others were hard on the edges. A small mistake on the pitch may have set her back slightly, as she pushed hard all the way through the finish with a combined time of 1 minute, 56.32 seconds and the lead.
But it wasn’t enough to hold off Germany’s Hoefl-Riesch, who demonstrated why she’s the Olympic champion, flying into the finish coral with a total combined time of 1:55.58 and the decisive advantage.
It proved to be an insurmountable gap, as local favorite and first-run leader Tanja Poutainen, of Finland, got kicked in the back seat on the pitch to find herself in the second position with a time of 1:56.13.
“All I knew was that needed to do as I did in training,” said Shiffrin. “My goal was to stay calm and do what I know best. I get this feeling as if I am flying down the course and I had it in Lienz last year when I got my first podium … now I get it more and more often which must be a good thing. It’s a great boost of confidence to start the season like this, I feel good and will try to keep working hard.”
Just before her second run, Shiffrin Tweeted, “Let’s Dance.” Here’s the story: “It’s a quote from Avatar. One of my friends and I used to use that quote all the time. In the movie, he’s trying to tame a wild beast. It helped me get in the right mindset.”
Women’s tech coach Roland Pfeifer said he witnessed great confidence from the young racer, who was making just her 12th World Cup appearance.
“After Soelden she was a little frustrated,” said Pfeifer. “She had good training runs and her expectations were really high. She was a little nervous that it would be the same in slalom – ski great in practice and not accomplish her goals in the race – but she worked through the pressure and skied with confidence. … In the end, it’s up to her to ski the way she knows she can and she did that in Levi. I couldn’t be more proud of her.”
“It’s always good to start the season with a victory,” Hoefl-Riesch said. “The first race in Soelden was not easy; I was recovering from a bad flu so this is a much better start. I am almost 28 now and even though I might be counted among the older crew, especially if compared to Mikaela, I sure feel I have a lot more to give and am looking forward to the next races.”
Poutiainen was in a great position to repeat her result from 2004, when she won the slalom in Levi the first year the race was established, but a few small mistake cost her the top spot on the podium.
“I was disappointed for maybe half a second after crossing the finish line,” Poutiainen said. “But that must be normal when you are leading in the first run. Maria and I talked about the situation before the second run – the first year the Levi race took place there were two slaloms and she won one and I won the other. So, we commented how it would be great if both of us could be on the podium together after so many years.”
16 years older than Shiffrin, Poutiainen sees the young competition as a challenge to keep working hard, rather than a threat.
“I don’t feel old but experienced. For the younger ones, they have this fire and they just go and ski, there is not much thinking so it’s good to have Mikaela on the podium with us today. Make me confident to know that you can be good when you are really young and you can also do so when you are somewhat older,” Poutiainen said.
“It’s so cool for me to race and be on the podium with these girls,” said Shiffrin. “They are still so much my heroes, but they are also my friends. … I cannot wait to get home to Colorado, to train in Vail and to race in Aspen. I love this early season time over there. It’s just beautiful, maybe it’s the smell of the air or something, but it just feels like home.”
Soelden winner Tina Maze had a fast upper section and was little hard on the edges coming down the pitch, but she prevailed, proving she could get away with a couple small mistakes to finish fourth.
Canadian Marie-Michele Gagnon came into the race with confidence from her performance in Soelden and had a fast second run, skiing the pitch with consistency to find herself momentarily in the lead. She ultimately finished 10th.
“I was a lot better in the second run. I was in the zone and just generally attacked,” said Gagnon, who started eighth but was 18th after the first run. “I’m happy, for sure. I expect more but I’m glad I got the jitters out of the way in the first slalom race.”
Gagnon, who finished sixth in the World Cup GS opener clocked a two-run combined time of one minute, 57.76 seconds.
“The last few years in Levi, I’ve always overskied the first run,” said Gagnon, who was 16th in Levi in 2010 and 14th in 2009. “(The steep section) seems like it’s a big test but you can totally attack it. I’m making a mental note of that for (next time).”
Her teammate Erin Mielzynski made up some ground in her second run to finish 14th, while Brittany Phelan skied to 28th and earned her first-career World Cup points.
American Hailey Duke did not qualify for a second run. She finished 54th.
Both Lindsey Vonn and Julia Mancuso sat the race out, opting instead to remain in the U.S. to take advantage of prime early-season training conditions in Colorado.
Meanwhile, tech specialist Resi Stiegler, who is coming back from injury this season, also missed the opening slalom to cement her recovery over the next few weeks. She’s expected to compete in Aspen later this month. —Geoff Mintz
by Hank McKee
Women’s World Cup Slalom, Levi, Finland, Nov. 10, 2012
1 Hoefl-Riesch, Head/Lange/Head
2 Poutiainen, Fischer/Fischer/Fischer
3 Shiffrin, Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
4 Maze, Stoeckli/Lange/Atomic
5 Velez Zuzulova, Salomon/Salomon/Salomon
6 Borssen, Fischer/Fischer/Fischer
7 Swenn-Larsson, Head/Head/Head
8 Pietilae-Holmner, Rossignol/Rossignol/Rossignol
9 Daum, Rossignol/Rossignol/Rossignol
10 Gagnon, Rossignol/Rossignol/Rossignol
Women’s World Cup slalom, Levi, Finland, Nov. 10, 2012. … It is the third race of 74 on the schedule. … the second of 38 scheduled women’s races and the first of 11 scheduled women’s slaloms (two of them city event parallel races). … It is the 13th World Cup race held at Levi, all of them slaloms, and the last nine held in November. … It is the ninth women’s slalom held at the site. … The races at Levi were canceled last season due to a lack of snow.
It is the 24th career World Cup victory for Maria Hoefl-Riesch. … her ninth in slalom and her third in slalom at Levi having also won Feb. 29
, 2004 and Nov. 14, 2009. …She is the only German to have won at the site.
It is the 47th career World Cup podium placing for Tanja Poutiainen. … her 27th in slalom. … It is her fourth podium at Levi having won in 2004 and finishing third in the last two races held at the site prior to today’s race (2009 and 2010).
It is the second career World Cup podium for Mikaela Shiffrin the first also a third and coming at Lienz in slalom Dec. 29, 2011. … She has just eight World Cup scoring results to her record and five of those are top 10 placings.
It is the 13th career top 10 placing for Marie-Michele Gagnon and her second of the season having placed sixth at Soelden in GS Oct. 27. … It is the tenth career Cup score for Erin Mielzynski, all in slalom, and matches her fourth best placing. … It is the first career World Cup scoring result for Brittany Phelan.
Tina Maze, fourth in race, maintains the lead of the World Cup overall standings 150-124 over Hoefl-Riesch. … Poutiainen is third with 91pts. … Gagnon is the top North American in fifth with 66pts. … Shiffrin is tied for sixth with 60pts. … Austria leads the women’s Nations Cup 268-188 over Germany with Sweden and Slovenia third each with 172pts. … Canada is sixth with 99 and the US ninth with 60, all gained by Shiffrin.
Career best placings were recorded by Anna Swenn-Larsson, Alexandra Daum, Wendy Holdener, and Phelan and it was the first slalom score for Sara Hector.
Saturday Results — Levi slalom
||Name||Year||Nation||Run 1||Run 2||Total Time||FIS Points|
|5||6||VELEZ ZUZULOVA Veronika||1984||SVK||1:01.69||55.13||1:56.82||6.65|
|Did not qualify for 2nd run|
|Did not finish 2nd run|
|Did not finish 1st run|