Mikaela Shiffrin’s time close to top male skiers on same course at world championships
CORTINA D’AMPEZZO, Italy — No woman came close to matching Mikaela Shiffrin on Monday. Not many men, either, for that matter.
The American skier dominated the combined race at the world championships to such a degree that she pondered how she stacked up against the opposite gender.
And for once — with men and women racing on the same course on the same day in the super-G part of the race — there was a direct comparison.
Shiffrin’s time in the super-G leg was third-best among the women and would have placed her slightly more than two seconds behind men’s halfway leader James Crawford of Canada — but ahead of American teammate Jared Goldberg, who had a wild run down the Olympia delle Tofane course.
“There’s a big difference between men and women skiing. But when we can get sort of close to that and on days like today with this perfect, smooth conditions and just full attack, then it’s cool to find a comparison,” Shiffrin said.
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While the men and women raced on exactly the same super-G course, the slalom leg for the men was slightly more challenging — it contained more gates and thus more turns.
But the snow surface for both men and women in the slalom was the same — injected with water to the point where it resembled a sheet of sheer ice.
Shiffrin dug her sharp edges into the hard surface with apparent ease as she danced between the gates to post the fastest slalom leg in the women’s race — more than a half-second ahead of silver medalist Petra Vlhova.
In the final standings, Vlhova (0.86 seconds behind) and bronze medalist Michelle Gisin (0.89) were the only skiers within two seconds of Shiffrin’s combined time.
“Dominant” was the word that Tiger Shaw, the president and CEO of U.S. Ski and Snowboard, used to describe Shiffrin’s performance.
“Look at how fast she was in the super-G and then acing the slalom as usual,” Shaw said.
Super-G leader Federica Brignone lost her grip and fell at the third gate of the slalom. Two-time defending world champion Wendy Holdener also failed to finish the second leg.
Likewise in the men’s race, 2017 world champion Luca Aerni was among those who failed to finish the slalom leg.
Austria’s Marco Schwarz narrowly edged Alexis Pinturault for gold while Loic Meillard took bronze despite finishing more than a second out.
So where might Shiffrin have finished in the men’s race? Well, it’s an inexact science, but Shiffrin required 45.05 seconds to clear the 57 turning gates of the women’s slalom course. Add in the three more turning gates on the men’s course, the equivalent of a 5.26% increase, and it translates to an extra 2.37 seconds.
That would have placed Shiffrin ninth overall in the men’s race.
“There’s a lot of talented girls skiing. I’m not surprised,” Kjetil Jansrud, the five-time Olympic medalist from Norway, said of the two-second gap between men and women after the super-G leg.
“Then again, two seconds on this course is quite a lot of time, because — well, it always is in skiing — but if there was anyone out there that thought the ladies would be like 10 seconds off, I could have already told them yesterday that that was wrong.”
Before injuries curtailed her career, Lindsey Vonn had campaigned for years for the right to race in downhill against men. She was one of the few female skiers to use longer men’s skis.
Vonn wanted to race against the men at the World Cup stop in Lake Louise, Alberta, where she won a record 18 times. The course in Cortina, where Vonn won 12 times, might have sufficed, too.
As American downhiller Bryce Bennett noted, the Cortina course doesn’t have enough features on it to “separate” the men from the women, compared to more challenging tests in Kitzbühel, Austria, and Bormio.
“You can just arc as hard as you can,” Bennett said. “It’s a full sprint top to bottom. There’s nothing in your way of braking. It’s just ‘hammer.’ It is what it is.”
Shiffrin was charging so hard in the super-G that she nearly crashed into the finish banner.
“Everything just felt so nice,” Shiffrin said. “It was just maybe a couple spots where I felt like I was enjoying the turns too much and forgetting to get in my tuck. … I almost missed the finish.”
Having already collected a bronze in super-G last week, the victory gave Shiffrin an American-record nine career medals at worlds — one more than Vonn.
She also became the first skier — man or woman — to win gold medals at five straight worlds.
“When I was a little girl and I wanted to be the best in the world. I wrote in my diary, ‘I want to be the best skier in the world,’” Shiffrin said. “What does that mean? It’s a lot of hard work. It’s a lot of sacrifice and dedication.”
Shiffrin also set an American record with her sixth world championship title, breaking a tie with Ted Ligety, who retired last week. She has four golds in slalom and one in super-G from previous worlds and is among the main contenders in slalom and giant slalom later this week.
“Fifteen years later, 10 years after I started racing on the World Cup,” Shiffrin said, “It’s incredible to look back at everything.”
Associated Press writer Eric Willemsen contributed.