ZAGREB, Croatia – Shortly after winning the first women’s World Cup slalom of 2021 on Sunday, Petra Vlhova kneeled with her face down, torn between relief and disbelief.
The Slovakian skier’s win came five days after her four-year-long joint winning streak with Mikaela Shiffrin ended.
In tough conditions due to fog and rain, the overall leader from Slovakia beat Katharina Liensberger of Austria by five-hundredths of a second.
Shiffrin was 0.27 behind in fourth, forced to wait for her 100th career World Cup podium, a milestone reached by only four female skiers in the 54-year history of the sport.
Leading after the first run, Vlhova thought she had squandered her chances in a rough final run with several mistakes on the deteriorating course.
“During my run, I thought, ‘OK, the race is done.’ But I found something inside, I pushed more and more and more until the finish,” she said. “It’s amazing and a really emotional victory.”
At a night race in Semmering last Tuesday, Michelle Gisin became the first skier other than Vlhova or Shiffrin to win a World Cup slalom in 29 races since January 2017, when Frida Hansdotter triumphed in Flachau.
Vlhova and Gisin are 1-2 in both the slalom and the overall standings.
On Sunday, the Swiss skier was 0.22 behind in third as the top four from the first run remained unchanged.
After Vlhova and Shiffrin dominated women’s slalom racing in recent years, Liensberger and Gisin seem to have closed the gap.
Gisin became the first Swiss slalom winner in 19 years with her victory in Semmering, and Liensberger has been on the podium in all four slaloms this season.
“They are really fast,” Vlhova said. “We are really close, I have to ski always to my limit because they push me a lot.”
In Sunday’s race, the gap between Shiffrin in fourth and Erin Mielzynski in fifth was a massive 1.13 seconds. With the fastest second-run time, it was the Canadian’s first top-five result since November 2015.
“We had amazing training leading into this race. We learned a lot of lessons as a team after Semmering,” Mielzynski said. “In my first run I lost focus a bit halfway down the course, but in my second run I kept focused and I just tried to go as hard as possible. Man, it was a really cool day. Today we’re going to take this as a big step forward for me.”
Shiffrin led the best showing by the U.S. ski team in a women’s slalom in 14 years, as four American racers qualified for the decisive leg for the first time since 2007.
From bib 42, American Paula Moltzan nearly matched her career-best slalom result in 14th. Katie Hensien, bib 47, skied to a career-best 18th place, first time in points. Nina O’Brien failed to finish her final run.
Defending overall champion Federica Brignone skipped the race in order to train for upcoming speed events in Austria.
Heavy rain on Saturday weakened the surface of the Crveni Spust course just outside Croatia’s capital. Course workers added salt that hardened the top layer but also created a lot of bumps.
Even Croatian great Ivica Kostelic struggled on the course. The 2011 men’s overall champion lost his balance and fell during a pre-race camera run.
The race took place five days after a magnitude 6.4 earthquake hit central Croatia. Race organizers said they would donate 10% of the prize money to a relief fund for people whose houses have been damaged or destroyed.
The Croatian ski federation matched that donation, raising the total amount to 350,000 Croatian kunas (50,000 euros; $60,000).
The women’s World Cup continues with speed races in St. Anton, Austria, next weekend.
World Cup – Women’s Slalom – Zagreb, Croatia – Jan. 3, 2021