Eagle-Vail’s Mikaela Shiffrin ties for giant slalom victory in Soelden
Special to the Daily
SOELDEN, Austria — It was a narrative that Hollywood couldn’t have scripted any better — a thrilling first-ever World Cup giant slalom victory for Eagle-Vail’s Mikaela Shiffrin as she skied to an improbable tie with Austrian star Anna Fenninger.
After two knee-jarring runs on the precipitous, shadowy and bumpy Rettenbach Glacier course, Shiffrin and Fenninger found themselves knotted with the exact same time of 2 minutes, 39.85 seconds.
“It couldn’t really go any better. I’m really excited,” Shiffrin said in the finish area after the shared victory. “I’m most excited that I didn’t back down on the second run, which I seem to do a lot if I lead the first run. I’m excited that I stuck with it and it feels really great.”
Shiffrin, the first run leader, found herself in unfamiliar territory in GS as the last racer to take to the slope in Run 2. The 19-year-old Olympic and World Cup slalom champion — who held a 0.09 second advantage over Fenninger — struggled on the upper part of the course and quickly found herself 0.63 seconds behind the Austrian World Cup champion.
However, Shiffrin demonstrated poise and composure beyond her years and shaved the difference on the long and steep middle pitch and lower flats to tie Fenninger for the win. Austrian Eva-Maria Brem, 20, rounded out the podium.
“It feels so special to share the podium with Fenninger and Brem,” Shiffrin said. “They’re my favorite racers — they’re so smooth and elegant in GS, so I’m excited.”
“It is a very special victory with Mikaela here in Soelden,” Fenninger said. “She’s still so young and she’s also inspiring to me. Mikaela is a big talent and her future is a good one.”
FIRST OUT OF THE GATE
As the first racer out of the start house at 9:31 a.m. — officially opening the 2014-15 alpine World Cup season — Shiffrin skied aggressively, attacking the 50-gate, 1,214-foot vertical drop course, clocking the fastest time of the first run in 1:17.93 seconds.
“Drawing bib No. 1 was special, and I actually had this dream a week ago,” Shiffrin said with a laugh. “When I had my first win in Flachau, I also had bib one so I said, ‘I would win here.’”
The triumph in Soelden was the 10th of Shiffrin’s World Cup career in her 53rd race on the circuit. She also attained her 17th career podium.
Making the victory extra special for Shiffrin and her numerous supporters in Soelden was that it came with exactly 100 days to go until the opening of the 2015 Vail/Beaver Creek Alpine Ski World Championships.
Four-time Olympic medalist Julia Mancuso generally skied well on most sections of the course, but a few untimely mistakes ultimately led to a tie for 17th.
Up to 70 centimeters of fresh snow that had fallen on Wednesday and Thursday had to be scraped off the piste with crews of up to 500 people working diligently around the clock.
The atmosphere for the traditional opening race was electric as roughly 15,000 enthusiastic fans came out to Glacier Stadium, a 30-minute ascent on switch back roads from the picturesque village of Soelden.
Fans chowed Tyrolean sausages and guzzled Goesser beer, while brass bands played loudly and colorfully attired Austrian fans cheered vociferously for their favorite racers.
COUNTING DOWN TO FEB. 2
With Saturday marking the 100-day countdown to the FIS World Championships in Vail/Beaver Creek, Feb. 2-15, Organizing Committee president Ceil Folz and her team have been out in full force over previous days in Soelden spreading the word and mingling with international ski journalists and others around town.
“I love coming to Europe to see racing, so I hope they will feel that same way to coming and see our races,” Folz said, referencing members of the international media as well as ski racing fans across Europe.
“Other than paying for your room and beer, we’re covering the costs — the races are free, transportation is free, entertainment is free. It will be a great opportunity for Europeans to come and have a great experience,” she said.
Accompanying Folz are Vail/Beaver Creek 2015 Vice President of Communications John Dakin and Senior Marketing Manager Kate Peters, among a team of six who have ventured to Austria.
On Friday, Folz and crew hosted a well-attended afternoon media reception at the rustic Giggi Tenne bar and restaurant in town.
Dropping by to meet with the jam-packed gathering of international ski media were U.S. Ski Team members Shiffrin, Mancuso, Bode Miller, Ted Ligety and Jared Goldberg, among others guests. Recently retired Austrian Marlies Schild also made an appearance.
Folz and team also attended Friday’s FIS Forum Alpinum delivering an informative and entertaining presentation. International media, National Ski Association members, FIS staff and various World Cup organizers were impressed by a slickly produced and fun-filled video showcasing Vail/Beaver Creek and the numerous locals helping to prepare for the championships.
Dakin addressed members at the International Association of Ski Journalists General Assembly meeting on Thursday, highlighting details and logistics for February.
MEN RACE SUNDAY
Vail’s Sarah Schleper, 35, competed in the first race for her new country of Mexico three years after retiring from the tour. Schleper started 68th and navigating a dark, rutted track, finished 48th, more than 10 seconds behind Shiffrin.
However, the race was important to the ski racing mom as she is striving to represent Mexico at the home World Championships.
Undoubtedly, it was a spectacular day of ski racing to open the new season, with Shiffrin once again astounding the ski racing community.
“It’s a great step — everybody is like, ‘You’re now going to get the overall this year,’ and I’m like, ‘We’ll see,’ but it’s a great start,” Shiffrin said.
Ted Ligety gets his crack at the Rettenbach Glacier piste on Sunday, as Mr. GS seeks a fourth consecutive victory at the Austrian resort. But teammate Bode Miller will sit out the race.
“Bode’s been working hard and getting his back treatment,” said U.S. Ski Team men’s alpine coach Sasha Rearick. “The back treatment is going well and he has made the decision to let the treatment take its place. He needs one more week so he can be full gas for Copper training and we can really get going and get ready for November/December and the rest of the tour. There’s a lot of races coming up, and Soelden’s a demanding hill; it’s challenging. For now it makes sense to let the treatment do its thing.”