Shiffrin second in World Cup slalom; gains on Vlhova
Liensberger picks up first tour win
Upon further review, Mikaela Shiffrin may not be out of the World Cup slalom chase yet.
Austria’s Katharina Liensberger got her first World Cup win — strange as it sounds — on Saturday in Are, Sweden, with Mikaela Shiffrin in second and Switzerland’s Wendy Holdener in third.
The big news was that Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova may have made enough of a mistake to re-open the slalom chase. The Slovakian had a tough first run, which eventually relegated her to eighth for the day.
That’s a 48-point gain for Shiffrin in and the American is back within striking distance with one race left in the season.
Vlhova started the day with an 85-point lead with two races to go, but not only did Liensberger pick up 100 points and Shiffrin 80, but Vlhova had her worst performance since a DNF in Levi, Finland, back in 2019.
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Vlhova now only leads Liensberger by 22 points, 612-590, with the last slalom of the season in a week at World Cup finals in Lenzerheide, Switzerland. Shiffrin trails by only 37 points.
To be fair, Vlhova did very well to finish eighth. She was 27th after the first run, nearly DNF-ing after five gates and barely making the flip. She was 2.95 seconds back after the first run. Given her start, Vlhova’s rally in the second run might save her the slalom globe.
The difference between 27th and eighth place is 28 points. Had she not rebounded in the second run, Liensberger would be leading the slalom chase and Shiffrin would trail only by nine points.
Simple scenario: Shiffrin wins the World Cup finals slalom, Vlhova finishes third and Liensberger has a bad day, and the 26-year-old American — happy birthday, Mikaela — gets the globe.
Birthday girl @MikaelaShiffrin and World champ Katharina Liensberger kept their slalom title hopes alive in Are.#HappyBirthday @fisalpine @usskiteam— Olympic Channel (@olympicchannel) March 13, 2021
⬇️ Here's why their podium places matter so much.https://t.co/C14HWFwI29
OK, probably not that simple, but the situation is more manageable than it was 24 hours ago. Shiffrin winning next week and earning 100 points would pass Vlhova were she to finish third (60 points) or worse. That’s not out of the imagination in any way.
Passing Liensberger may prove more difficult, particularly the way the Austrian has skied in the second half of the season. The simplest scenario would be a slalom podium of Shiffrin, Liensberger and Vlhova. With first place earning 100 points, second 80 and third 60, Shiffrin gains 20 points on Liensberger (she trails the Austrian by 15) and 40 points on Vlhova (she trails by 37).
There are infinite scenarios for the World Cup finals slalom, but you have one week to play them all out. Enjoy yourself.
Were we to wager money on a sporting event — no, sir; no gambling ever — we’d watch Liensberger.
All she does is podium. In eight World Cup starts, nine including worlds, which she won, ending Shiffrin’s reign, her worst finish was fourth. Ironically, since her only victory in her career to date was that worlds slalom win, the Austrian won her first World Cup on Saturday. (Such a silly rule that world champs don’t count as World Cups.)
FYI, Liensberger is the first Austrian woman to win a World Cup slalom in six years, a stat which doesn’t seem right, but astonishingly is. (Nicole Hosp in Aspen back in 2014. Small world.)
News and notes
• Quotebook: “I knew Liensberger would be pushing very hard,” Shiffrin said to the Associated Press. “I tried to push and kind of keep up with the pace, so I can take some good things from it. … The only thing you can really expect (from World Cup finals) is that it will be an exciting show. … Kathi and Petra are both very strong. I am not totally out of the fight, which is, after yesterday, a little bit of a surprise.”
• Shiffrin led Liensberger by 0.19 seconds after the first run. This is surprising, but not shocking. With all the obstacles she’s faced this season — be they personal or global — this is part of Shiffrin’s game that hasn’t quite come back to previous heights — closing the deal with her previously ruthless efficiency. Given the strides she’s made this year, we’ll see it again.
• Congratulations to American Paul Moltzan, who had a spectacular weekend in Are. She was ninth on Friday and fifth on Saturday. Moltzan is 11th in the slalom points and can move into the top 10 at World Cup finals next week.