It took her eight races sans Mikaela Shiffrin on the circuit, but Italy’s Federica Brignone on Sunday finally passed Shiffrin in the overall World Cup chase, winning an alpine combined in Crans Montana, Switzerland.
Brignone picked up 100 points for the victory and now leads the overall chase by a margin of 1,298 points to 1,225 for Shiffrin. Third-place Petra Vlhova was a DNF (did not finish) and still trails Shiffrin in the overall hunt by 86 points.
Vlhova was headed for a win in the event when she straddled a gate in the slalom, her specialty. Otherwise she would have bumped Shiffrin to third in the overall chase. Brignone realizes she benefited from Vlhova’s mistake.
”I think that I had a little luck also in the slalom because Petra was really skiing well,” Brignone told Swiss television, according to the Associated Press. Brignone also addressed the hoped-for return of Shiffrin (see press release below).
Shiffrin was well on her way to claiming an American record fourth straight overall title before the accidental death of her father, Jeff, earlier this month.
“At this point … Mikaela’s return to Europe and return to competition is unknown,” the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Team reported in a press release on Sunday (see below).
The team’s Megan Harrod put things in perspective with this dispatch on Saturday:
“This tragic and unexpected news that has rocked the whole ski community— from the Vail Valley across the world — is a poignant reminder of what matters most in this life: FAMILY. Mikaela is missed deeply on the World Cup circuit by all, but she’s exactly where she needs to be at this moment: with family. The Shiffrin family, and the entire team, appreciates the outpouring of love and support, and requests that we collectively continue to respect her and the family’s privacy.
“Champions have many characteristics, which of course vary from champion to champion, but I believe one characteristic that remains consistent is that champions have heart…and Mikaela has one of the biggest hearts I know. Right now, it is important she takes care of that heart. And it is important that we all continue to respect that process.”
Shiffrin last raced Jan. 26 in Bansko, Bulgaria, winning a super-G that Sunday after claiming a downhill on Friday. At that point, Shiffrin had built a 360-point lead over Brignone and a 395-point lead over Vlhova. Brignone has now completed a 433-point turnaround and holds a 73-point lead over Shiffrin heading into the final 12 races of the season.
Brignone, who’s having an outstanding season, returns to home snow this coming weekend, with a Feb. 29 – March 1 super-G and combined (one run of super-G and one run of slalom) in La Thuile, Italy.
That’s followed by a giant slalom and a slalom March 7-8 at Ofterschwang, Germany, a parallel slalom, giant slalom and slalom March 12-14 in Are, Sweden, and then all five disciplines March 16-22 at World Cup Finals in Cortina, Italy.
Here’s the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Team’s press release on Sunday’s race:
Alice Merryweather earned a career-best eighth-place result in Sunday’s alpine combined at Crans-Montana, Switzerland to lead the Land Rover U.S. Alpine Ski Team.
Italy’s Federica Brignone pulled off the victory with some gutsy skiing, while the rest of the podium was a bit of a surprise as Austria’s Franziska Gritsch was second, and the Czech Republic’s Ester Ledecka rounded out the podium in third. With her win, Federica became the first woman to win four alpine combined races in a single ski resort, and she became the FIS Ski World Cup overall leader.
With warmer temperatures and a surface that did not freeze on Saturday evening, the track held up surprisingly well for the super-G portion of the alpine combined. Starting bib 5, Italy’s Federica Brignone capitalized on the early bib number and absolutely skied with fire and passion. She put it all on the line, and won the super-G portion of the combined by .58 seconds over Slovakian Petra Vlhova. Alice Merryweather skied a clean and solid super-G run, ending up sixth—just 1.03 seconds off of Federica’s pace.
As the temperatures increased, athletes had to fight to the finish in the slalom portion of the alpine combined. It would be a Federica-Petra battle, and Federica skied a solid slalom run, crossing the line with a final time of 1:56.24. All eyes on current slalom leader Petra, who was skiing OK but definitely not on her A-game, and straddled a gate, skiing out and DNFing—thus handing the victory and the overall lead to Federica.
In an interview on Saturday when asked about being the new favorite for the overall as Mikaela was not competing, Federica answered passionately, “I want Mikaela back, I really do hope that she will return soon…for herself so she can do again what she loves most. I know that what I am going to say will seem harsh but one has to move on…it’s not like it was about a few races that didn’t go well and you can slowly forget about it. What she went through is something she will never forget and it won’t ever go away. I do know that she will need time, but I really hope that she will come back soon and go back to what she likes the most (skiing), and that it will help her overcome those terrible moments she just went through.”
The journalist was somewhat taken aback with Federica’s answer, thinking that Federica would respond by saying that she’s excited for the potential to lead the in the overall standings. But, Federica respects Mikaela, loves the competition, and knows it’s good for the sport.
Alice’s sixth place super-G run set her up for a career-best alpine combined result on Sunday, but more importantly, it gave her added confidence heading into next weekend’s speed series in La Thuile, Italy, as she hopes to make it into the top-25 in the world in super-G and thus qualify for World Cup Finals in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy.
“It’s definitely a confidence-boost going into La Thuile, but I’m definitely not taking anything for granted,” noted Alice. “I’m not comfortable in 24th by any means, so I justt have to put Finals out of my mind and think about it as just another race, just another day of super-G. But, it definitely helps to have a good super-G under my belt from this morning.”
With back-to-back career-best super-G results at Sochi, Russia and Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, Alice will head into La Thuile with even more confidence. “I think that I have gotten a lot better technically, at least in the prep period I got a lot more solid in my technical skiing, and I think that I’m finally trusting that in super-G races” she added. “I’m struggling a bit more in downhill now, but I’m able to trust myself a little more in super-G than I have in years past.”
With her win on Sunday, Federica Brignone becomes the overall leader with 1,298 points — 73 points ahead of Mikaela Shiffrin, and 159 points ahead of Petra.