Lucky or not, Shiffrin wins first slalom of season
And that's her fourth reindeer
Mikaela Shiffrin won what should be the first of many battles this season. Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova had a first-run lead, but crashed on the second run during Saturday’s first slalom of the World Cup season in Levi, Finland.
That gave Shiffrin what will look like, in retrospect, an easy 1.78-second win over Switzerland’s Wendy Holdener. Austria’s Katharina Truppe finished third for the first World Cup podium of her career.
“I felt a little bit lucky with this win, but I also felt good with my skiing, so I’m happy,” Shiffrin told NBCSports.com.
There is, however, an argument that one makes her own luck. With the victory, Shiffrin won the 41st slalom of her career. Already the winningest female slalomer of all time — she passed Austria’s Marlies Schild (34) last year — Shiffrin eclipsed Sweden legend Ingemar Stenmark for the most World Cup slalom victories by anyone who’s worn skis.
Shiffrin also recorded her fourth win at Levi, a new record previously held by Germany’s Maria Hoefl-Riesch.
“No one was asking me about the records,” Shiffrin said via FIS Soundcloud. “…Before the run I wasn’t thinking about it at all, just thinking about my skiing. My first run felt good, solid. My second run, I wanted to push a little harder. The whole day, it was a nice day.”
Meet your new reindeer
And, yes, with the win, Shiffrin won her fourth reindeer, the signature prize of this event. Levi is as close as the white circus gets to the North Pole as we inch closer to Christmas.
Shiffrin has named her previous reindeer, “Rudolph,” “Sven,” and Mr. Gru.” According to the U.S. Ski Team’s Instagram account, “To answer your question: no…she hasn’t shared the name of her reindeer yet. You’ll have to stay tuned to find out what it is!”
Shiffrin started the race with the No. 1 bib and came down in 58.78 seconds, a lead she held for six racers until Slovakia’s Vlhova set the time to beat with 58.65.
The American had another quick trip down the hill in her second run and had to wait to see what her rival did.
Watching Eurosport.com’s highlight clip, Vlhova came out fast on her second run, in the green through the first interval before crashing out on the 14th gate.
At the bottom of the hill, Shiffrin raised her hands to her face in concern as Holder patted her back as if to congratulate her. Vlhova ended up skiing down on her own.
“I have a lot of respect for her, and for her team, and the way they’re looking. It reminds me a bit how I’m looking — focused and working really hard, training a lot,” Shiffrin said via FIS Soundcloud. “Starting the season in Soelden (in 14th place) was really hard for her. Coming here, I know she felt a lot of pressure to get everything on track again. Like I said, I have a lot of respect for her.
“I was very impressed with how she was able to do her first run today. The second run, she was pushing really hard. It’s just the terrain was a little tricky as well. So I was maybe a little lucky to win today, but I was skiing really well, so I’m happy with it.”
Yes, it’s only Nov. 23 and two races into the season, but Shiffrin is already building a lead over both Vlhova and Holdener.
While Shiffrin finished second to New Zealand’s Alice Robinson in the Soelden, Austria, giant slalom last month, Vlhova was 14th and Holdener 15th. That put 62 and 64 points, respectively, between Shiffrin and Vlhova and Holdener after one race.
Keep in mind that New Zealand’s Robinson does not race slalom and did not compete on Saturday. With a win, Shiffrin just opened up more of a gap in the early chase for her fourth World Cup championship in a row.
Shiffrin heads to Killington, Vermont, next weekend for two tech races with 180 points, with Robinson in second with 100 and Holdener in third with 96, while Vlhova gets no points from the DNF and is 25th in the points with 18.
This story will be updated.