Shiffrin dominates field to win World Cup slalom
ZAGREB, Croatia — American skier Mikaela Shiffrin continued her recent resurgence in slalom by convincingly winning her second straight World Cup race, leaving her rivals in awe four weeks before she defends her world title in Beaver Creek.
In sunny conditions and cheered by 8,000 spectators, the Olympic champion posted the fastest time in both runs to finish in an aggregate 1 minute, 56.66 seconds and lead second-place Kathrin Zettel of Austria by 1.68 seconds, the biggest winning margin in the 10-year history of the event.
“For the first time in my career, I just feel like I am in complete control of myself,” said Shiffrin, who sorted out some equipment issues by changing her boots and skis and tweaked her mindset during a 10-day training camp in Italy in December.
“I feel really comfortable on my feet right now after a lot of testing in Santa Caterina but also really great training,” the American said. “I have started off really great with my career but I am hoping to keep improving … I feel like I am in a really great place right now.”
Nina Loeseth of Norway was 2.79 back in third for her maiden career podium finish and first for a Norwegian female skier since 2002, while the rest of the field trailed Shiffrin by more than three seconds.
Shiffrin won the slalom World Cup the past two seasons but failed to reach a podium in the first three races this season until dominating in Kuehtai, Austria, last week, where she also won both runs.
“With every single run that I take I get more confident,” the American skier said. “My skiing is good right now, it’s kind of back on track and my equipment feels really good.”
It was the American’s 12th career World Cup win and 11th in slalom, matching a World Cup record set in 1980 by France’s Perrine Pelen for most slalom wins as a teenager.
“It’s a crazy feeling to be the last racer on the hill in the second run and to be like, ‘OK, it’s on me now,’” said Shiffrin, who also won the Snow Queen Trophy two years ago. “There is some pressure there but it’s nice when I deal with it and still ski well. That’s one of the best feelings in the world.”
Shiffrin didn’t try to merely defend her 0.80-second lead over Zettel from the opening run but went out attacking in her second as well.
“Mikaela was amazing, so super strong,” said Zettel, adding she was “really happy” with coming runner-up to the American. “Mikaela is from a different planet. It looks like nothing can go wrong, it looks so smooth and easy and she’s obviously having a lot of fun.”
Frida Hansdotter of Sweden placed fourth to retain her lead in the discipline standings with 320 points, though Shiffrin has closed the gap to a single point. Tina Maze is 25 points behind Shiffrin in third, and the Slovenian skier stayed atop the overall standings after placing fifth in Sunday’s slalom.
Sarka Strachova, who was third after the opening run, straddled a gate and failed to finish, while Sweden’s Maria Pietilae-Holmner and Austria’s Nicole Hosp, who both won slaloms this season, also skied out.
Sara Hector of Sweden, who won a GS for her maiden victory last week, started in 61st position but placed ninth for her first top-10 finish in slalom.
There is one more slalom before the world championships — in Flachau, Austria, on Jan. 13.
A men’s night slalom on the same course is scheduled for Tuesday, while the women’s World Cup continues with speed races in Bad Kleinkirchheim, Austria, next weekend.