Seemingly nothing can stop Vail’s Mikaela Shiffrin in slalom and certainly not a nasty cold.
The 23-year-old made history on Saturday at the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in Are, Sweden, by winning the slalom for the fourth consecutive time at the biennial event.
“I was just trying to fight to stay on the course,” she said to The Associated Press and that she “certainly had a lot of doubt today.”
On where this performance ranked in her career, Shiffrin said: “Today was something else.”
U.S. Ski Team spokeswoman Megan Harrod said Shiffrin “has a chest cold” and had “low energy.” According to the AP, Shiffrin collapsed to the snow for a little while after finishing.
“Everyone around me today was helping me so much to make it so that I could breathe when I needed to,” Shiffrin said to the AP. “I don’t want people to think, ‘Oh, I’m sick and I won.’ I mean I was really pushing and maybe I couldn’t have done better if I was feeling normal.”
“A testament to her grittiness,” Shiffrin’s coach, Jeff Lackie, told The Associated Press, “and what she was able to accomplish in that second run was nothing short of incredible.”
No one has ever won the same event at worlds four times in a row— even when the event was held annually from 1931-39 — so welcome to history, Mikaela.
Shiffrin was third after the first run behind Switzerland’s Wendy Holdener (0.15-seconds ahead) and Sweden’s Anna Swenn Larson. The American blew away the field in the second run with the only time under 1 minute (59.82 seconds) to win by 0.58 seconds over Swenn Larson and Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova, while Holdener faltered and fell back to 17th place.
Being under the weather didn’t stop Shiffrin from becoming only the third American to win two golds at worlds. Shiffrin won the top step in super-G last week.
Lindsey Vonn, who retired earlier this week with her bronze in the downhill, won two golds in 2009 (downhill and super-G) in Val, D’Isere, France. American Andrea Mead Lawrence also did the double (giant slalom and slalom) in Oslo during the 1952 Olympics, when the games doubled as the world championships.
In the post-World War II era of the event, Shiffrin is tied for fourth among women all-time with five gold medals at worlds in her career along with Austria’s Annamarie Moser-Proll and Croatia’s Janica Kostelic. Only France’s Marielle Goitschel and Sweden’s Anja Parson (both at seven) and Switzerland’s Erika Hess (six) have won more.
Shiffrin has also now tied Ted Ligety for most worlds gold medals by an American with five. She has a rather extensive collection of trinkets with 7 worlds podiums (five gold, one silver and the bronze, the last coming in Thursday’s giant slalom), as well as three Olympic medals (2014 slalom gold, 2018 GS gold, and 2018 combined silver).
Shiffrin probably could have been forgiven for thinking, “Here we go again,” as the weather was poor again in Are. While wind forced her to ski conservatively during the first run of Thursday’s giant slalom and “settle” for bronze, fog descended on the course on Saturday.
And then there was her illness.
Skiing with the No. 2 bib, Shiffrin had a solid first run which put her in position for the podium and a possible charge, but she was having a hard time breathing.
“It was a really big push today. Every day is a push,” she said via an audio file posted on www,fis-ski.com. “It’s always a fight, but I was watching the girls after the first run, thinking, like, ‘I don’t know how much more I have to give, how much more I can push.'”
“It wasn’t enough in the first run. So I was really trying to overcome this doubt. My team, my coaches, everybody, they were helping me so much to believe in myself, but also just to say, ‘The reality is you have to push for 60 seconds. Everything else doesn’t matter, just 60 seconds. So like pull yourself together for that and then OK, you’re done.’ When I think about it like this, then it seems manageable. That’s where my mind was before my run.”
As it turned out, Shiffrin needed fewer than 60 seconds, 59.82 seconds to be precise.
“I don’t even remember my run,” she said. “I just remember pushing on every turn.”
But it wasn’t over. First of all, she had to get up from her prone position in the finish area. She said she was worried that it would be disrespectful to be lying in a heap, even if she was having a hard time getting oxygen to her lungs, with Sweden’s Swenn Larson coming down next.
Shiffrin could also sense that the home crowd was willing Swenn Larson to do well, totally understandable as the host nation had not medaled to that point at worlds. Swenn Larson charged, assured Sweden of its first medal of the two-week event, yet finished a little more than a half-second back of Shiffrin.
The American then had to wait out the first-run leader, Holdener, who had a forgettable second run, clinching the gold for Shiffrin.
“It’s been an emotional day and I’m not sure why I’ve been crying a lot more than I normally do. It’s a little bit embarrassing. But it is emotional for a lot of reasons. I can’t explain every reason to you right now. I think it would take much to long. It’s sport. It’s life … It’s everything mixed together, but it’s a really special day today.”
American Paula Moltzan also had a big day, finishing 19th.
Back to the white circus
And so ends a memorable world championships for Shiffrin. The men race slalom on Sunday to close out Are 2019.
But the World Cup continues and Shiffrin is close to clinching her third straight World Cup championship. With the caveat that world championships do not count toward World Cup points, Shiffrin still has a huge lead of 651 points over Vlhova. With 11 World Cup events remaining, this is all but an insurmountable lead.
The women’s tour is in Crans-Montana, Switzerland, for a downhill and a super-combined next weekend. While Shiffrin has not announced her upcoming schedule yet, she has finished a strenuous stretch at Worlds, not to mention the build-up to Are. In the last two months, she has competed in 21 events in 10 different countries — the United States, Canada, Switzerland, Frace, Austria (twice), Norway, Croatia, Italy, Slovenia, and Sweden — and it’s not hard to speculate that she may take a pass on Switzerland, even with the super-combined.
There’s also the factor of getting healthy and being able to breathe normally, which usually helps with Alpine skiing. There are more speed events — a downhill and super-G — in Rosa Khutor, Russia, March 2-3.
The tour turns back to tech with a GS and slalom in the Czech Republic, March 8-9, and her return to the slopes will come there, if she doesn’t appear in the previous two stops, followed by the World Cup finals in Soldeu, Andorra, March 13-17.