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After long personal journey, Shiffrin finally wins again

December 14, 2020, 6:38 am
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And just like that, Mikaela Shiffrin of Edwards is back to dominating on the World Cup circuit.

Mikaela Shiffrin
Mikaela Shiffrin

Shiffrin, battling back from personal loss and recent injury, returned to the top step of the podium in a giant slalom in Courchevel, France, on Monday, her first victory since winning a super-G in Bansko, Bulgaria, on Jan. 26 – and the 67th of her career.

And she did it in dominating fashion, topping defending overall World Cup winner Federica Brignone of Italy by .82 seconds. Tessa Worley of France was third – 1.09 seconds behind Shiffrin.

It was Brignone who moved into the overall lead last season as Shiffrin, who had been cruising to a fourth-straight title, took time off on the circuit following the death of her father Jeff after an accident in Edwards in early February. By the time Shiffrin came back, the COVID-19 pandemic cancelled the season.

Shiffrin missed the first giant slalom of this season – the opener in Soelden, Austria, in October – with a back injury. And she’s seen some of her favorite venues in North America – Killington and Lake Louise – scrubbed due to the circuit remaining in Europe as the virus rages in the States.

Monday’s race was postponed from Sunday due to heavy snow in Courchevel. In Saturday’s GS, Shiffrin was fourth after what she called “a big mistake” kept her off the podium. There were no such mistakes in her two runs on Monday.

Shiffrin has said she’ll focus on the tech events of slalom and GS and leave speed (super-G and downhill) alone for now. Still, Monday’s win vaulted her into second in the overall chase with 275 points to 420 for Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova, who did not finish the first run on Monday.

According to the Associated Press, Shiffrin knelt in the finish area after her second-run time was announced and appeared to be sobbing. She also had a hard time composing herself for a TV interview immediately after.

The win tied her with Austria’s Marcel Hirscher, now retired although rumored to be considering a comeback, at third place all-time with 67 career wins. That trails only Lindsey Vonn among women (82) and Ingemar Stenmark among men (86).

Here’s the press release from the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team on Monday’s win:

On a stunning day in Courchevel, France, Mikaela Shiffrin made her triumphant and emotional return to the top step on the podium in a FIS World Cup. Young gun AJ Hurt took home her first World Cup giant slalom points, and top-20, in 18th place.

After an issue with the snow, in which the course was watered after heavy snowfall on Saturday and then groomed, the track was deemed unfit for racers for the previously scheduled Sunday giant slalom. But Sunday’s postponement left a hard and fast track for the women on Monday under blazing sunlight and it was worth the wait to see Mikaela take her first World Cup win in almost a year.

It was a beautiful moment when she crossed the finish line ahead of the field, as the community at the bottom of the hill realized that this was Mikaela’s first win after her father’s sudden passing. Mikaela took a moment in the finish corral, sitting on her skis and hugging her legs—seemingly letting it all wash over her. Emotions ran higher when she stepped off the podium and into her mom’s arms, as she cried through her post-race interview.

“It was a pretty incredible day, obviously,” said Mikaela through tears. “But I’m pretty sad. I mean, it’s a bit bittersweet. But it’s pretty special.”

Mikaela won the first run, but only by seven-hundredths and she knew she had to keep up her energy and stamina to hammer out a strong second run for the win. And given that this was only her second giant slalom race after over 300 days off the World Cup circuit, she wasn’t sure she could do it. “I didn’t really know if I could come back to this level. It’s a lot of energy to focus like that and to put the toughness and strength in your skiing,” said Mikaela. “I’ve done it—I used to do it all the time—but I’m at a different place and didn’t know if I could do it again.”

But Mikaela proved herself wrong and threw down a stellar second run on the swingy-set course to take the win by .82 seconds—her first victory since January 2020 and first giant slalom win since December 2019. Behind Mikaela, Federica Brignone of Italy finished second—a particularly impressive feat given that she went down on her hip in the second run—and Tessa Worley of France was third.

Mikaela was quick to commend her teammates, rivals, coaches and family. “It’s a really big testament to my coaches and my mom and everybody around me—my whole team, my family,” said Mikaela. “I definitely didn’t ski alone today. I had a lot of strength from a lot of people to help me get down.”

Sunday’s win was Mikaela’s 67th FIS World Cup victory, tying her with the legendary Marcel Hirscher and placing her third on the overall win list, behind Ingemar Stenmark and Lindsey Vonn. “I was thinking a lot about his skiing today—so that’s pretty cool,” said Mikaela.

AJ Hurt, who celebrated her 20th birthday last weekend, had a huge day, grabbing her first-ever World Cup second run and subsequent World Cup points with a top-20 finish. “I’m very excited,” she said. “I wasn’t as nervous as I thought I’d be!” AJ’s result earned the Land Rover U.S. Alpine Ski Team women’s tech crew another World Cup giant slalom spot in their quota. 

Paula Moltzan, Keely Cashman and Nina O’Brien also started for the Land Rover U.S. Alpine Ski Team in Courchevel, but did not qualify for a second run.

The women head next to Val d’Isere, France for speed events. Training begins Wednesday.

Women’s giant slalom

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