Shiffrin third in World Cup night slalom; Vlhova wins again
Chase for globe tightens
Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova has a little winning streak going, taking her second consecutive World Cup slalom on Tuesday in Flachau, Austria, topping Sweden’s Anna Swenn Larsson, by 1-tenth of a second, and Mikaela Shiffrin in third by 0.43. seconds.
If Shiffrin is going to win her eighth slalom globe in nine seasons, she’s going to have to fight for it. Vlhova’s win and Shiffrin’s third-place finish closes the latter’s lead in the discipline to 440-360 with seven races remaining in the season.
There are four traditional slaloms and three parallel slaloms left and both count toward the slalom globe. The two will meet again on Sunday in a parallel slalom in Sestriere, Italy, preceded by a giant slalom on Saturday.
In the stunning-trivia department, the last time Shiffrin “lost” two or more consecutive slaloms in one season was more than five years ago, according to The Associated Press. Shiffrin finished 11th in Levi, Finland, on Nov. 15, 2014, fifth in Aspen on Nov. 30, and then fourth in Are, Sweden, on Dec. 13 of that year.
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As the U.S. Ski Team’s Twitter feed rightly noted immediately after the race’s finish, Shiffrin still holds the lead in the overall (quite comfortably, 886-613 over the Slovakian), but Vlhova is not backing down in the slalom chase.
Vlhova built a 6-tenths-of-a-second lead over Shiffrin during the first run. Swenn Larsson actually ripped off the fastest second heat, which vaulted the Swede to the silver medal, while Shiffrin could gain just 17-hundredths on the Slovakian.
The big talk after the race was that Shiffrin’s coach Mike Day set the course for the second run. For the uninitiated, coaches of nations rotate in setting the piste. Yes, there can be some gamesmanship here.
Croatia’s Ante Kostelic, the father of Janica and Ivica Kostelic, was particularly notorious for some interesting course settings.
Tuesday’s second set had a few more curves — giving it a little more of giant-slalom look which potentially could have benefitted Shiffrin. The American was adamant in saying that the course was not set to benefit her or hurt Vlhova.
“The first thing I wanted to say, I think everybody knows that my coach set the second course,” Shiffrin said via FIS Soundcloud. “I think everyone was thinking he would set the course against Petra. I want it to be clear and maybe the most important thing I want to say is we don’t do that. We don’t play those games. I think it’s bad karma.”
Along those lines, Shiffrin talked about how a few years ago she had a coach who set a course that was thought to be beneficial to her, and it didn’t work out. After that, Shiffrin said she wanted nothing to do with course-setting and alluded again to “bad karma.”
What’s more, the way Vlhova’s skiing, good luck to those who try to make it harder on the Slovakian.
“Another thing is that it’s a testament to Petra’s skiing that you can’t set a course against her because her skiing is the best right now,” Shiffrin said. “She’s able to do any course and handle it the way she needs to.”
Vlhova’s good too
This might be a good time to remind everyone that Vlhova’s won the last two slaloms because she is an outstanding racer in her own right. The level of Shiffrin’s dominance during her career brings up images of the Boston Celtics’ Larry Bird before the 1988 NBA All-Star Game’s 3-point shooting competition before which he famously entered the locker room, and said, “Who’s coming in second?”
Shiffrin would never do that — it’s just not her personality. She always says the right things as illustrated by her comments above.
But since the skiing world is so Shiffrin-centric, it is worth remembering that the American is not the only one competing in World Cups. There’s a field of the best female athletes in the world trying to knock her off every race and Vlhova is a staggering talent.
The Slovakian, born just two months to the day after Shiffrin, is a rising star and deserves all the credit she’s getting. In just a little more than a calendar year, dating back to Dec. 28, 2018, she has eight World Cup wins, as well as a FIS Alpine World Ski Championship gold in the giant slalom.
By comparison, Shiffrin, since Vlhova got going on Dec. 28, 2018, has 14 World Cup wins and two worlds golds (super-G and slalom).
Going back to Larry Bird and the Celtics of the 1980s, sometimes, Bird won. Sometimes, Magic won. We’ll continue to watch it play out this weekend in Sestriere.
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Jeff Shiffrin, with his wife, Eileen, made the Vail area their home decades ago, and together raised Mikaela and Taylor Shiffrin, who was a member of the two-time NCAA Champion University of Denver Ski Team.