Shiffrin cruises to 2nd in Soelden | VailDaily.com

Shiffrin cruises to 2nd in Soelden

Brian Pinelli
Special to the Daily
Mikaela Shiffrin, of Eagle-Vail, celebrates her second-place after the second run of the World Cup giant slalom in Soelden, Austria, on Saturday.
AP | AP

SOELDEN, Austria — It was a picture-perfect day drenched in sunshine in the Austrian Tyrol as Mikaela Shiffrin kicked off the new FIS World Cup season in style, finishing second in the giant slalom behind Italian Federica Brignone.

Shiffrin attained her second podium finish in as many years at the season opening race on the revered Rettenbach Glacier, high above the village of Soelden Austria. Shiffrin tied for victory with Austrian star Anna Fenninger last year in the same race.

The Eagle-Vail racer skied two consistent runs, but it wasn’t enough to overcome two near flawless runs by Brignone. Shiffrin’s two-run time was 2:25.12 — 0.85 seconds off Brignone’s winning pace.

“I felt like I skied well. I felt like I attacked and had more confidence in GS than before, so I think it’s a good place to start,” Shiffrin said shortly after the race.

“Federica absolutely nailed her first run and skied really, really well in her second run, so I don’t think anyone could have beaten her today.”

Shiffrin admitted to being nervous over the past few weeks leading up to the inaugural race.

“Yesterday and today, I was like, ‘I’m sick of being nervous, and let’s just ski well,’ to not be so nervous about if I win and just see where I stack up. It’s always a fun race here, and I just wanted to enjoy that.”

Icy conditions

Brignone, 25, blazed to her first career World Cup victory, having previously finished seven times on a GS podium. Her mother, Maria Rosa Quario, a World Cup slalom specialist in the 1980s, nervously watched her daughter’s breakthrough performance from the finish area.

Brignone and Shiffrin went 1-2 as well following the morning run. Shiffrin managed to shave just one-tenth of a second off the Italian’s first run lead.

Liechtenstein’s Tina Weirather, who is now working with former U.S. Ski Team coach Andy Evers, finished in third place, four-tenths behind Shiffrin.

Icy conditions made the steep and technical Rettenbach Glacier course more difficult than usual. The ladies navigated 46 turning gates and a 370-meter vertical drop, including the course’s steep, sustainable mid-section pitch, which is entirely visible from the finish area.

It was a tough day for the ski racing crazed Austrian nation. Eva-Maria Brem achieved Austria’s top finish in eighth, nearly three seconds off the winning result. She was the only Austrian racer to crack the top 15.

The Austrian Ski Team and fans of the sport are still coping with the injury of two-time overall World Cup champion Anna Fenninger. The popular racer, who claimed two gold and one silver medal at last season’s FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in Beaver Creek, is out for the season after tearing ligaments, the result of a training crash on Wednesday.

“Anna has been an absolute force the past couple of years,” Shiffrin said. “We’re all human, and everyone can get injured. It was a real eye-opening experience to hear she got hurt. I think she is one of the greatest female skiers of all-time.”

Colorado flags

In lieu of the Austrian shortcomings, the race atmosphere was electric as 14,000 fans cheered on the racers, many of whom enjoyed a beverage or two, or three, or more. Shiffrin’s fan club fervently waved U.S. and Colorado flags, adjacent to fan clubs for Brem, Swiss skier Lara Gut and others.

Shiffrin touched upon about her goals for the season, as she plans to incorporate super-G events into her race schedule. She is also chasing her first giant slalom title, having finished third last season.

“It’s always been a dream of mine to win the overall globe, but I think this season is a little bit of a gauge to see where I can stack up,” Shiffrin said. “Obviously, today is a great start, but it’s a little bit early to tell right now, and I don’t want to focus too much on that.”

“I have more mature goals now,” continued the 20-year-old racer. “After my Olympic gold and World Championship gold medals, I feel like there is less pressure and I can relax a little bit. I’m just really working on improving my skiing and being the best in the world.”

Schleper races for Mexico

Vail resident and World Cup veteran Sarah Schleper continues to turn back the clock, racing for her adopted nation of Mexico. With her two children looking on from the finish area, Schleper charged down the mountain, but was unable to qualify for the second run.

“It was a sheer ice rink, so I didn’t do as well as I could have,” Schleper said.

“It’s the best job in the world — I love the sport,” she said. “The adrenaline and emotion of being at a World Cup start never goes away.”

Schleper said she “wants to inspire the young Mexican team” that she is coaching and declared she will race at the Aspen World Cup next month.

Lindsey Vonn returned to snow on Thursday after nearly 10 weeks of healing an ankle fracture sustained in New Zealand while training, but opted to forego the Soelden opener. Vonn said she felt good and was skiing fast, but ultimately decided to shift her focus to training and getting stronger for technical races next month in Aspen, followed by her favorite speed events in Lake Louise.

Shiffrin begins her quest for a fourth consecutive slalom globe in Levi, Finland, on Nov. 14. Training camps at both Copper Mountain and home in Vail will lead up to the Aspen technical races, Nov. 28 and 29.