Mikaela Shiffrin captures first career giant slalom victory
SOELDEN, Austria — Mikaela Shiffrin wasted no time fulfilling her ambition to start winning giant slaloms this season.
The 19-year-old American, already dominating the women’s slalom circuit for two years, clinched her first GS win Saturday, sharing victory with overall World Cup champion Anna Fenninger in a tense season-opening race.
“I wanted this so bad for so long,” Shiffrin said. “It is so special, also to share the podium with Fenninger, especially in GS, as she is so smooth and elegant.”
Austrians Eva-Maria Brem and Kathrin Zettel came third and fourth, respectively, 0.66 and 0.67 off the lead.
Shiffrin led Fenninger by 0.09 seconds after the opening run but looked like out of contention when she trailed Fenninger by 0.63 seconds halfway down her second run.
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For the first time leading in a GS, Shiffrin “took the foot off the gas” early in her final run before speeding up again.
“It was a big fight,” the American said. “That was pretty rough. I am psyched I made it down alive.”
The American accelerated to reduce her deficit to 0.09 at the final split time before crossing the line while matching the Austrian’s time.
“I don’t think this really counts (as a win),” a stunned Shiffrin said on Austrian TV after being asked about her maiden GS victory.
Her first win in another discipline than slalom, where Shiffrin is the Olympic and world champion and holds back-to-back World Cup titles, immediately raised the issue of her chances having a shot at the overall title.
“Maybe, we need a few more races,” Shiffrin said with a smile, and confirmed she planned to add “one or two super-Gs” and probably some super-combined events to her schedule.
“I was fast in the flats so that are good signs (for the super-G),” she said.
Fenninger acknowledged to being “very nervous” in her opening run.
“I lost a weight from my shoulders in the second,” the Austrian said following her ninth career win. “The season is so long, we don’t need to talk about the World Cup (title) now. But the start is nice. I never thought it would go on like this. I am proud to have arrived where I always wanted to be.”
Shiffrin’s first GS win seemed just a matter of time. She already had seven top-10 finishes, including two podiums, in the World Cup, and came sixth in the 2013 worlds and fifth in the Sochi Olympics in February.
The American became only the eighth female skier to win 10 or more World Cup races as a teenager. Austrian standout Annemarie Moser-Proell holds the record with 27 wins before turning 20.
Shiffrin likely won’t overtake her before turning 20 in March, though she could catch up on Erika Hess and Janica Kostelic, who share second place on the list with 12 wins each.
It’s not the first time the season-opening race on the Rettenbach glacier ends in a tie. There was even a triple victory in 2002 when Tina Maze, Nicole Hosp and Andrine Flemmen shared the win.
Under cloudy skies and on a bumpy course, many of the pre-race favorites struggled.
Lara Gut of Switzerland, who won here last year, skied out in her second run, and Liechtenstein’s Tina Weirather, in the running for the overall title last season until getting injured at the Sochi Olympics, finished 2.54 off the lead in 10th.
The 2010 Olympic GS champion, Viktoria Rebensburg of Germany, was 0.58 back in sixth, while 2013 overall champion Tina Maze of Slovenia trailed Shiffrin and Fenninger by a massive 4.72 seconds.
Shiffrin’s teammate Julia Mancuso, the 2006 Olympic GS champion, was a late starter in 47th after lacking results in the discipline in recent seasons. Mancuso finished 4.11 off the lead in 17th.
Sarah Schleper, who aims to compete for Mexico at the world championships in Vail and Beaver Creek in February, made her return to the World Cup at age 35, three years after retiring. She finished 10.87 seconds off and didn’t qualify for the final run.
A men’s GS on the same course is scheduled for Sunday. The women’s World Cup continues in Levi, Finland, for a slalom on Nov. 15.