KUEHTAI, Austria – Just one day before becoming the winningest slalom skier in U.S. history, Mikaela Shiffrin said she realized she had to stop focusing on trying to break records and needed to return to having fun while racing in order to regain her form. She found both on the Hohe Mut slope in Tirol and even learned a little about herself along the way.
“I felt like that second run I brought out something in me that was buried really deep inside, and now it’s there and now I feel a little bit more free,” Shiffrin exhaled after claiming her 10th career slalom victory. “I’ve learned that I actually can attack when it’s variable conditions, and I’ve also learned that enough is never really enough. I was pretty satisfied with my first run in the lead, but I also knew that everybody else was really closing in. And I was hoping that the second run I could really lay down a run where I separated myself. It’s not enough to win if it’s not my best skiing … but today I feel like I skied my best, so I’m happy.”
Shiffrin built on her first run lead of only .15 seconds over Tina Maze to ski the two fastest runs of the day for a victory .80 seconds ahead of Sarka Strachova of the Czech Republic, who collected her first podium since a 2009 slalom victory in Aspen and also since undergoing brain surgery in 2012 to remove a benign tumor. Swiss Wendy Holdener finished the day in third after her own second run charge as Maze dropped back to sixth.
“Second run the visibility got worse with the snow, but when I ski my best and when I’m having fun, it doesn’t bother me so much,” Shiffrin said. “It was really one of my best runs that I’ve had all season including training or anything. Just to be able to put that out there in a race was really exciting.”
Although Shiffrin appeared to struggle in the races since her victory in the World Cup opener in Soelden in October, she never lost sight of where she wanted to be with her skiing.
“Really getting back to that feeling I had last year where I had really good timing at each gate and I was never being pushed to the side. I was just on it all the time,” Shiffrin reasoned. The list of what she’s worked on between finishing fourth in Are and winning in Kuehtai certainly isn’t short, but it demonstrates her dedication to the process of the sport: “Figuring out what I need to do in the morning for warm-up so that my legs are ready to go, what I need to do to keep from getting nervous so I can put out my best skiing, and then also finding a ski and boot setup that works together that suits my skiing.”
With her 10th slalom victory, Shiffrin surpassed both Tamara McKinney and Phil Mahre – each with nine – to become the winningest slalom skier in U.S. history at the age of only 19.
It was an equally emotional result in second for Strachova who had questioned if she should even return to competition after undergoing brain surgery.
“It’s a really nice feeling after a long break for me, and … I’m really satisfied with today’s race,” Strachova said. “It is really important for me that it was the right decision after my quite serious injury to continue, and I am happy that I’m back. … Skiing is sometimes good days and sometimes bad days.”
For Holdener, landing on the podium in slalom was quite a relief.
“Today’s results take some pressure off my shoulders,” she said. “It is such a good feeling when you try hard and it works out like it did today. I know I can still get more podiums now.”
The day proved less fortunate for many like Veronika Velez-Zuzulova who gave Shiffrin legitimate challenge in the first run from bib 14, carrying the green light all the way down before crashing on the final pitch with just a few gates to go to the finish line. Canadian Marie-Michele Gagnon, who sat fourth after the first run, straddled and crashed in the same section in the midst of a solid second run. Her boyfriend Travis Ganong, who secured his career-first World Cup win just a day earlier, arrived in Kuehtai in time to show his support but Gagnon did not collect the intended result.
“I will do it in the second run today because I know what to do now,” she said after first run. “I just need to trust that what I have is enough, not cutting the line. You just have to find that precise timing and give it 100 percent energy in the snap. For me, I call it Schild momentum because Marlies Schild I grew up watching every day and she has this really strong momentum in her upper body – a strong core – and it’s so solid. So that’s what I’m going to do.”
Gagnon’s teammate Erin Mielzynski demonstrated her commitment to the process of returning to the top of the World Cup with a stepping-stone 16th-place finish while youngster Candace Crawford, fresh off her recent success on the NorAm circuit, picked up her career-first World Cup points after finishing 25th from bib 44. Resi Stiegler battled back from a hard training crash in Santa Caterina over the Christmas holiday and then an illness to finish 27th after a mishap in the same section as Gagnon where she seemed to run out steam.
“I’ve just been in bed resting, so then when you get outside and you’re hammering, you’re like woah! I think just the sickness and everything has been kind of tough for me,” Stiegler said. “I’ve been holding back a little bit in every race. I mean, I’m doing really well and I’m happy about that, but I think if you don’t push the envelope a little bit and risk some, then you’re not going to make like the next step.”
Usually all smiles in the finish area, Stiegler appeared exhausted and disappointed but determined to turn it around in the next race after necessary rest and recuperation.
Despite finishing fourth on the day, Swede Frida Hansdotter was able to retain the lead in the slalom standings for the season thus far. After the New Year holiday, the women will resume racing in Zagreb, Croatia, with another slalom podium on the line where Shiffrin is the defending champion from 2013. But don’t expect her to be motivated by any thoughts of winning this season’s race at Sljeme.
“When you try to0 hard you often don’t get what you want,” Shiffrin concluded.
See more photos from this race in our gallery here.
By Hank McKee
- Shiffrin, Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
- Strachova, Fischer/Fischer/Fischer
- Holdener, Head/Head/Head
- Hansdotter, Rossignol/Rossignol/Rossignol
- Pietilae-Holmner, Rossignol/Rossignol/Rossignol
- Maze, Stoeckli/Lange/Atomic
- Hosp, Fischer/Fischer/Fischer
- Zettel, Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
- Swenn-Larsson, Head/Head/Head
- Gisin, Rossignol/Rossignol/Rossignol
Women’s World Cup slalom, Kuehtai in Tirol, Austria, Dec. 29, 2014:
- It is the final race of the calendar year, the 13th race of 34 on the women’s 2014-15 World Cup calendar. … It is the fourth of ten originally slated slaloms with one cancellation (Munich city event). … It is the second World Cup hosted by Kuehtai, the previous held Dec. 28.
- It is Mikaela Shiffrin’s 11th World Cup win … her tenth in slalom. … It is her second win of the season. … It is the seventh U.S. win of the season and the 277th in World Cup history. … Shiffrin passes Phil Mahre and Tamara McKinney to lead all Americans for most career U.S. slalom wins.
- Winning margin is .80 … just three are within the same second and nine within two seconds.
- It is the tenth career World Cup podium placing for Sarka Strachova (Zahrobska) … all of them in slalom.
- It is the second career World Cup podium for Wendy Holdener, both in slalom. The other was a second place at Ofterschwang last March 10.
- It is the 23rd career World Cup scoring finish for Erin Mielzynski, her second (and best) of this season. … It is the first career scoring finish for Candace Crawford. … It is the fourth scoring finish of the season for Resi Stiegler, all in slalom.
- Tina Maze (sixth in race) holds a 732-487 lead for the World Cup overall standings over Anna Fenninger (did not race). … Shiffrin moves into third with 345pts. … Lindsey Vonn (did not race) holds sixth overall with 312pts. … Marie-Michele Gagnon (did not finish) tops the list of Canadians overall in 28th with 115pts.
- Frida Hansdotter (fourth in race) leads the slalom standings 270-249 over Maze. … Maria Pietilae-Holmner (fifth in race) is third in the slalom standings with 245pts. … Shiffrin has 219pts and Gagnon 96.
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