Shiffrin repeats as national champion
WINTER PARK – Mikaela Shiffrin, of Eagle-Vail, turned in two smooth runs on soft snow to defend her slalom title at the U.S. championships.
The 17-year-old Shiffrin finished in a combined time of 1 minute, 39.57 seconds Wednesday, holding off Hailey Duke by more than a second. Kiley Staples wound up third.
“I love skiing in the U.S.,” Shiffrin said. “Winning a race is great, but to be able to drive home and sleep in my own bed is really comforting. There’s certainly an advantage to that.”
Shiffrin is coming off a sensational rookie season on the World Cup circuit. She earned her first podium finish by taking third in the slalom in Lienz, Austria, last December, and she notched her first World Cup top 10 on home snow in Aspen in November.
Shiffrin lived in the Vail Valley until she was 8, when her family moved to New Hampshire. She later attended Burke Mountain Academy in Vermont and achieved great success on the junior racing circuit. She spends summers in the Vail Valley.
“I remember being one of the young kids running up to get an autograph from athletes like Lindsey Vonn or Sarah Schleper and I truly can’t believe that kids are now looking for my autograph,” she said. “I hope that I’m able to inspire them as much as the other girls on the U.S. Ski Team have inspired me.”
Her week isn’t done as Shiffrin will also compete Saturday in the giant slalom, along with Julia Mancuso and reigning World Cup overall champion Lindsey Vonn.
“This is a great way to end a great World Cup season,” Shiffrin said.
Ski and Snowboard Club Vail’s Paula Moltzan finished fifth. Vail’s Erika Ghent ended up in 10th, and Abby Ghent was 25th.
Schleper in transition
Vail’s Sarah Schleper competed Wednesday, a couple of months after she retired from the World Cup circuit. She missed a gate at the bottom of the course on her first run in Wednesday’s slalom.
“It was a tough race today, but I was happy to see all my teammates, and seeing Mikaela win again was cool,” she said.
The 33-year-old Vail native made her World Cup debut in 1995. She has won four national championships in slalom, most recently in 2010, and she was hoping to add more this week.
“Mikaela is skiing extremely fast, but I was thinking podium, for sure,” she said.
However, with the disappointing finish Wednesday, Schleper is headed to Aspen to compete at the Bob Beattie Reunion Cup.
It’s been an emotional few months for Schleper, who, after stepping aside from the World Cup tour, spent the rest of the winter with her family in Europe. She has a 4-year-old son, Lasse.
“I had a great retirement period and just being over in Europe with family and letting go of World Cup and high-competition racing,” she said.
“I think it’s all culminating today,” she added. “I haven’t felt this exhausted in a long time. I just want to go lay down and let go of everything for a bit. It’s hard to say goodbye to my friends.”
She participated last weekend as a “legend” alongside Franz Klammer, Marc Girardelli, and the Mahre brothers in Vail’s American Ski Classic event.
“That was when I really felt like, oh my God, I’m a legend now and I’m on the other side the fence,” she said. “It kind of sealed the deal for me. I’ve been going to Ski Classic for so many years. To actually be a legend and racing was a lot of fun.”
Schleper will split time between Vail and Minnesota this summer. She hopes to be involved in skiing, probably coaching in the winters to come.
And she may get one more national title after all. She says she’s renewing her FIS license, with plans to return to compete in next year’s nationals.
The nationals continue today with the men’s slalom.