Mikaela Shiffrin had gone nearly a whole month — insert overly-dramatic sound effects here — without winning on the World Cup tour, so, naturally, she burst back into the win column on Friday with a downhill victory by winning the Val d’Isere, France, downhill in Bansko, Bulgaria.
Shiffrin finished in 1 minute, 29.79 seconds, 0.18 seconds ahead of Itay’s Federica Brignone and Switzerland’s Joana Haehlen (0.23 seconds) in a downhill rescheduled from Val d’Isere last month.
Ironically, Shiffrin withdrew from the original Val d’Isere downhill because that came on the heels of a 17th-place finish in giant slalom in Courchevel, France, to hit the pause button on her season. Said downhill ended up getting snowed out twice in France.
While fans are used to Shiffrin winning World Cups — this is her 65th career win and fifth in 2019-20 — it’s only the second time she’s won in downhill (Lake Louise, Alberta, on Dec. 1, 2017).
“I was really excited about this track and the challenges in it,” Shiffrin told The Associated Press. “It’s not easy. It’s a little bit scary. At the start, I was like, ‘OK, you got to get tough now.’ It’s for sure a nice track for me.”
What originally seemed like a trip to Bulgaria to pad her overall lead in her quest for a fourth consecutive World Cup championships by participating in speed events this weekend became a bit more serious when Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova also entered training on Thursday.
Shiffrin led Vlhova in the overall, 925-726, going into Friday’s race. Vlhova, who had only competed in one World Cup downhill in her career (17th, Are, Sweden, in 2018), finished sixth on Friday, an excellent result for the Slovakian better known for her tech skills.
Nonetheless, Shiffrin gained 60 points on Vlhova and 20 on Brignone, who surged past the Slovakian into second. For the statistically inclined, Shiffrin now leads the table with 1,075 points, followed by Brignone (795) and Vlhova (766).
One sleeps better, we assume, on what is nearly a three-race lead.
While the overall championship is doubtless the goal, Shiffrin also pulled into second place in the downhill standings with 206 points behind Switzerland’s Corinne Sutter (243). It sounds a little silly — Shiffrin competing for a downhill globe — but the ladies are racing in another downhill in Bansko on Saturday.
Via FIS SoundCloud, Shiffrin busted up the post-race news conference, when the Bulgarian host asked her about Saturday’s downhill.
“I thought tomorrow was slalom,” Shiffrin deadpanned. “Just kidding.”
On a serious note, it’s been quite an adjustment for Shiffrin from technical skiing back to downhill. Consider that she last raced the discipline on Dec. 6-7.
“The last time I was on my downhill skis was in Lake Louise, so it felt like a really long time ago. I felt a little bit strange on my skis yesterday (during training),” she said. “It’s hard to make the turns so long. I’m normally doing slalom and GS turns … It’s a little bit strange only to have now just two runs of downhill since early December. I wasn’t expecting this today and I’m not expecting it tomorrow.”
That said, Bansko seems like a fit for Shiffrin. As she has slowly expanded into speed events, she’s been meticulous in selecting the sites for her forays. Lake Louise is a mellow track and also conveniently scheduled early in the season.
St. Moritz and Crans-Montana in Switzerland have slowly been added through the years as has Cortina, Italy. By the way, this spring’s World Cup finals and next year’s FIS Alpine World Ski Championships are in Cortina. (Doubtless, Cortina making Shiffrin’s cut in not a coincidence.)
Bansko, though not an annual stop on the tour, also may get added to that list. The Bulgarian resort has hosted the women’s World Cup in 2009, 2012 and 2015 — Lindsey Vonn won super-Gs there the first two years — and has a reputation as a technical track.
Technical is ski-speak for a speed course with more turns — which just happens to be a Shiffrin specialty — and was targetted by Shiffrin’s coaching staff.
“This hill is pretty challenging and it’s prepared amazing,” Shiffrin said. “It’s for sure the most technical hill on the speed circuit. I was looking forward to coming here because that maybe suits me a bit better than some of the other typical speed tracks.”
Shiffrin will compete in Saturday’s, ahem, downhill, followed by Sunday’s super-G.