Shiffrin conquers Aspen World Cup slalom
ASPEN — Finally. The streak is over.
Mikaela Shiffrin broke the international grip on ski racing in Aspen with a demonstrative victory Saturday in the World Cup slalom at Aspen Mountain.
Shiffrin, who nearly won Friday’s giant slalom, left no doubt Saturday when she dominated both slalom runs.
No late-race flubs this time.
Shiffrin, the three-time World Cup slalom overall champion, won her 15th World Cup race (14th slalom) with two flawless runs, eventually taking the victory by a staggering 3.07 seconds — the largest margin of victory in the history of the women’s World Cup ski racing.
The 20-year-old Shiffrin posted a combined time of 1 minute, 39.81 seconds, well ahead of second-place Veronika Velez Zuzulova, of Slovakia, (1:42.88).
Frida Hansdotter, of Sweden, finished third at 1:43.07.
Shiffrin was fastest in the sun-soaked first run as well as the flat-light second run after experiencing the frustration of an agonizing loss in Friday’s giant slalom, when she fell two gates from the finish while in the lead.
Her smooth and confident second run Saturday sealed the historic win in front of a huge Aspen crowd that had agonized with Shiffrin just 24 hours ago.
Her victory was the first by an American woman in an Aspen World Cup race since Tamara McKinney in 1981. McKinney was on hand Saturday to congratulate Shiffrin.
And Shiffrin’s win is the first by an American in Aspen since Bill Johnson in America’s Downhill in 1984.
Motivation from fall
Shiffrin set herself up for victory when she drilled the first run Saturday morning, taking a 1.38-second lead over Velez Zuzulova.
After waiting through the other 29 second-run qualifiers with the sun tucked behind Shadow Mountain, Shiffrin picked up her first elusive win on American snow with Saturday’s slalom victory in Aspen.
“I know this hill really well now,” Shiffrin said. “I think I have an advantage. A lot of these girls aren’t used to the terrain and the surface.”
She said she found motivation in her anger after Friday’s fall — a rare occurrence for Shiffrin.
“That makes me so mad,” Shiffrin said. “It was a mental lapse on my part. And I won’t do it again.”
After stewing over Friday’s fall, Shiffrin said she reached a turning point.
“I made the decision to let it fuel me for today,” said Shiffrin, who torched the field Saturday with her record margin of victory.
She said she was very nervous at the start of the first run, the first World Cup slalom run of the season.
“I couldn’t breathe on the first run. I was nervous, but I still attacked,” Shiffrin said. “After the first two gates, I didn’t feel the nerves anymore. I was just finding my rhythm again.”
In a foreshadowing of her second run Saturday on the Aspen Mountain slalom course, Shiffrin said “I’m lucky to be in this position, and I’m not going to take it for granted.”
She used her refined technique to blast through the second course, which featured tighter turns that the first run. Neither posed a problem for Shiffrin, who now has the fastest time in three of the four World Cup runs in Aspen thus far.
Velez Zuzulova, a 15-year veteran of the Slovakian World Cup team, said she was pleased with her second-place finish Saturday.
“For sure, I am really happy,” she said. “It is my best start of the season ever.”
Velez Zuzulova, who is married to a Frenchman, trains with the young French World Cup skiers.
“They make me faster,” she said. “The young girls always try to be better than me.”
She said she also was pleased with her finish because of the challenge of racing at high altitude in Colorado.
“It’s not easy to race here because it is so high,” the Slovakian said.
On a day when American skiers celebrated along with Velez Zuzulova, the Austrians did not.
Three top Austrian skiers went off course in the first run — Michaela Kirchgasser, Carmen Thalman and Bernadette Schild.
Last year, the Austrians dominated the podium in the Aspen Winternational races.
Sweden had a strong team showing Saturday with three skiers in the top nine.
Hansdotter was third, Maria Pietila-Holmner was fifth, and Sara Hector was ninth.
Resi Stiegler, of Jackson, Wyoming, finished at 1:45.61 with a solid second run.
She was 15th at the end of the day, moving up three spots from the first run.
Paula Moltzan, of Minnesota, in her third World Cup start, missed a gate and skied off course in the first run.
Another U.S. skier made her World Cup debut in Aspen on Saturday.
Lila Lapanja, who lives in Truckee, California, made a mistake early in the course and caught a gate with her ski, going off course in the first run.
Aspen Winternational 2015 will continue today with the second World Cup slalom at Aspen Mountain.
The first run will start at 10 a.m. The second run will begin at 1 p.m.
Television coverage will be on NBC.
Shiffrin, after Saturday’s podium ceremony, said, “I’m happy about the victory, but I’ve got to let it go.”
Today, she said, is another day.
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