Mikaela Shiffrin finishes second in Soelden GS
New Zealand's Alice Robinson wins season opener
Seventeen-year-old New Zealander Alice Robinson scored the upset during Saturday’s season-opening giant slalom in Soelden, Austria, edging Mikaela Shiffrin by a mere six-hundredths of a second.
Shiffrin laid down the fastest first run on the Austrian glacier, only to have the New Zealander surpass her for the first World Cup win of her career.
According to Ski Racing Magazine, Robinson became the first New Zealander to win on the World Cup since Claudia Riegler did so in 1997.
Shiffrin earned 80 points with the finish as she starts her quest for a fourth consecutive overall World Cup title. France’s Tessa Worley was third.
While a surprising result, Shiffrin and Robinson were merely picking up where they left off at the World Cup finals in March in Soldeu, Andorra, where Shiffrin got the better of Robinson in the final GS of the 2018-19 season.
“For sure, there’s always disappointment when you come to the finish line and see the red light,” Shiffrin said via FIS Soundcloud. “There’s always going to be disappointment. First thing is that it was so close. The second thing is Alice skied so incredible today, just like she did in Andorra last year. It’s really cool to watch her and to see the fire in her eyes and the fire in her skiing. It’s really motivating as well, so a huge congratulations to her because she did a really, really good job.”
Coming off a record-setting season, expectations for the 24-year-old Shiffrin are exceptionally high, nigh unto ridiculous. It’s worth noting that Shiffrin in eight career starts in Soelden has “just” one career win in eight starts on the course. She finished third last season here, behind Worley and Italy’s Federica Brignone, and last won at the site in 2014.
In a way-too-early look at the 2019-20 points chase, Slovakia’s Petra Vhlova, second behind Shiffrin in the World Cup chase last year, finished 14th on Saturday, while Switzerland’s Wendy Holdener, third in the overall, was 15th.
“For me, it’s like a podium in the first race of the season is always a good thing, especially when it’s this close, and even more this year because I felt more comfortable and confident with my skiing and better in this first race than I ever have,” Shiffrin said through Soundcloud. “I don’t know. The way I felt today, it was really nice to race.”
Wearing bib No. 4, Shiffrin came down the first run in 1 minute, 7.89 seconds, 14-hundredths of a second ahead of Robinson. Brignone (0.86 seconds) and Slovenia’s Meta Hrovat (0.95) were the only others within a second,
When asked if she felt unbeatable after the first run, Shiffrin replied in the negative.
“No, I felt like a little like I had to race to win. I was trying to think of the second run as if it’s a totally new race, like in the first run, everything’s even and you just have to go for it and not protecting something. I was being even a little more aggressive sometimes,” she said via Soundcloud. “The aggression I used was a little bit in the wrong way, so I was making some mistakes. That’s also something that happens especially the first race of the season, just to get the balance of being aggressive taking the risk, but not too much, but also having the good skiing.”
A reminder, here, that Shiffrin is not a cyborg and is tuning her game because it’s the first time in seven months racing.
“That’s always been a difficult balance for me,” she said. “But to go on the limit for me today was not a bad thing and I’m proud of that too, even though it wasn’t as good as the first run. It was some really good skiing as well.”
As for Robinson, who turns 18 on Dec. 1, Saturday was a dream come true. According to The Associated Press, Robinson is flying back to New Zealand to finish up high school.
News and notes
• The Best Headline Award goes to Fis-Ski.com, which had “Alice in Wonderland.”
• American Nina O’Brien (San Francisco, Burke Mountain, and Dartmouth), the 2019 NorAm overall champion, took 21st. A.J. Hurt (Squaw Valley, California) did not make the flip. Storm Klomhaus (University of Denver) was a first-run DNF.
• Austria’s Bernadette Schilde had a second-run crash and tore her ACL, according to the AP.
• The men race in Soelden on Sunday in the first race of the post-Marcel Hirscher Era. The women don’t resume until the first slalom of the season on Nov. 23 in Levi, Finland.
Five out of 22 member ski areas have adopted pay-to-play policies when it comes to skinning, snowshoeing or hiking up the mountain.