Jasna World Cup technical delegate Bohumír Zeman insists that any conspiracy theories suggesting that Mikaela Shiffrin was intentionally held up at the start of her second giant slalom run on Sunday are completely unfounded.
Zeman, a veteran race official from the Czech Republic and the 1981 Kitzbuehel combined champion, addressed local media regarding critical remarks made by Shiffrin that Slovak race organizers were “unprofessional” for making her wait in the start for what she felt was an unnecessary amount of time.
“I would be sorry if the slightest part of the conspiracy theory stuck to the perfectly organized races,” Zeman told the media, after watching the replay of race winner Petra Vlhova and Shiffrin taking their final GS runs at the Slovak ski resort.
Zeman thoroughly explained how the events leading to what was roughly a three-minute delay transpired, while noting that it was an entirely international race crew involved in the procedures.
The hometown hero Vlhova aggressively charged down the Lukova 2 course managing a tight line, while plowing through numerous gates, one of which was snapped and needed to be replaced as Shiffrin stood at the start ready to defend her first-run lead of 0.16 seconds.
Zeman said the decision to replace the broken pole was made a Polish TD in charge of that particular course section and the repair was carried out by a Croatian technician. An Italian official confirmed the procedure on race radio, including informing the Slovak starter that the race needed to be halted for safety reasons.
“Unfortunately, at this point, Shiffrin had to wait for the start before getting the start command, which is always unpleasant for a concentrated racer, but it is not exceptional,” Zeman said.
“What was supposed to take 30 seconds took them perhaps five minutes. Like they said, ‘Let’s see if we can get in her head,'” Shiffrin said on Sunday, after posting the 11th fastest second run time, dropping to third place, 0.37 seconds short of what would have been her second GS victory of the season.
“I have to learn to work better with it, it happens more often than you think. Skiing is not always fair, but it can at least be professional. This was not the case. Petra could have won without any help,” Shiffrin said.
The Slovak chief of race Jana Palovičová addressed the delicate situation to Slovak media, and like Zeman, re-iterated that there was no foul play involved.
“By no means is it true that something like this happened intentionally,” Palovičová said. “It’s a normal part of our sport.
“Just as Mikaela Shiffrin had to wait for the start, Petra Vlhová had to wait — both two-and-a-half minutes. In both cases we reacted as quickly as possible,” she said, referring to Vlhova’s start delay, which was the result of Polish racer Maryna Gasienicka-Daniel being treated briefly in the finish area after a crash.
Shiffrin was striving to complete a double win at the infrequent World Cup stop in the Low Tatras Mountains of Slovakia, having defeated Vlhova in Saturday’s slalom.
For the Slovak ski racing star chasing her first overall World Cup title, it was not only an emotional victory at home, but also a critical win in narrowing the margin she trails World Cup overall leader Lara Gut-Behrami to 36 points. There are six races remaining.
Zeman also pointed out that there are numerous FIS measures in place to help ensure that the integrity of World Cup races are not tampered with.
The Czech race official, who skied at two Olympic Games, while competing for Czechoslovakia (when the Czech Republic and Slovakia formed one country prior to their separation) noted that the chief judge, in this case himself, is assigned from a country other than the host nation staging the race.
Zeman noted the same principle holds true for members of the jury, the race director and referee. He also advised that the two-minute interval following the race interruption is quite normal and team representatives of Shiffrin did not file any protest after the race.
Shiffrin amended her previous post-race comments later Sunday on social media, making sure to give full credit to Vlhova for the hometown victory.
“First thing- congrats to the other podium girls today. It’s awesome to see Alice Robinson back on the podium and Petra Vlhova also put down an amazing performance under big pressure,” the three-time overall World Cup champion tweeted.
“I said it many times today after the race that I was disappointed about the situation when I was in the start, but that is what it is and I just have to learn manage those situations better. But I wanna be clear that it was a completely separate thing from Petra’s performance.”
Shiffrin and Vlhova will once again battle head-to-head in consecutive slaloms, Friday and Saturday, in Åre, Sweden. Vlhova leads Shiffrin by a narrow 45 points in the slalom standings with three races remaining, as the American seeks her seventh World Cup slalom title.