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Shiffrin starts off season with a bang, securing Soelden giant slalom win

October 23, 2021, 6:54 am
Two-time Olympic champion and six-time world champion Mikaela Shiffrin notched her career-70th World Cup victory Saturday. (Agence Zoom/Getty Images – Hans Bezard)

Mikaela Shiffrin of Edwards joined the very exclusive, three-member 70-win club on the alpine skiing World Cup circuit Saturday, edging out Lara Gut-Behrami of Switzerland by 14 hundredths of a second in the season-opening giant slalom in Soelden, Austria.

Mikaela Shiffrin
Mikaela Shiffrin

Shiffrin trailed Gut-Behrami by two-hundredths of a second after the first run of GS in the morning but powered to victory in the second run in the afternoon.

Saturday was Shiffrin’s second career victory on the Rettenbach Glacier at Soelden, seven years after her first win in the event. She missed the opener in Soelden last season due to a lingering back injury, which clearly was in her rearview Saturday.

Rival Petra Vlhova of Slovakia moved up from sixth after the first run to finish on the podium in third, but she was a distant 1.30 seconds back of Shiffrin’s two-run time of two minutes, 7.22 seconds.

Saturday’s victory puts Shiffrin behind only former Vail resident Lindsey Vonn, now retired, on the all-time women’s list (82 victories) and Sweden’s Ingemar Stenmark (86) on the men’s side. It also marks a decisive comeback from a season of grief recovery, injury and COVID uncertainty last year, just in time for the Winter Olympics in Beijing in February.

“It was a really super clean run. I felt really good in my skiing,” Shiffrin told the Associated Press after her first run. “Watching Lara, she is also super on point and maybe a little bit more active, like a little extra something.”

If Shiffrin comes even close to her 2018-19 single-season record of 17 wins, she can pass Vonn on the all-time wins list. She also has a shot to then match Vonn’s American record of four overall titles – a real possibility since Shiffrin says she’ll focus somewhat on speed events as well as her signature tech races (slalom, GS).

Shiffrin last week said she’ll try to compete in all five medal events at the Beijing Games, requiring her to train more and compete in speed so she can have a real shot in super G, downhill and the combined.

Shiffrin, 26, is one of only three Americans to have won two Olympic gold medals (slalom in Sochi in 2014 and GS in PyeongChang in 2018). One more medal of any color at the Beijing Winter Olympics in February would tie Shiffrin with Julia Mancuso for the most (four) by an American women’s alpine skier. Three more would tie her with Bode Miller’s record for an American man with six.

Besides those two golds (only recently retired great Ted Ligety and the late Andrea Mead Lawrence have ever won two alpine golds for America), Shiffrin also claimed silver in combined in PyeongChang in 2018. She was ambivalent, however, on what means more — another overall World Cup title or more Olympic glory. Mostly, she acknowledged that pressure will come with both pursuits.

The women race next in a parallel event Nov. 13 at Lech Zuers, Austria, sister resort of Shiffrin’s home mountain of Beaver Creek, where she won a world championship gold medal in slalom in 2015.

Here’s the full press release from the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team on Saturday’s race:

On a sunny, bluebird day on the Rettenbach glacier with perfect conditions, two-time Olympic champion and six-time world champion Mikaela Shiffrin notched her career-70th World Cup victory to lead four women into the top 25 in the Olympic season opener—the best U.S. Ski Team women’s giant slalom results in this era. 

On a first-run course set by coach Mike Day, with the best conditions this crew has seen in a while, the U.S. crew ripped, with Shiffrin in second by a mere .02 seconds, followed by teammate Nina O’Brien in 11th, AJ Hurt in 18th, and Paula Moltzan in 27th. Switzerland’s Lara Gut showed the world that, as a veteran, she remains one of the fastest giant slalom skiers on the planet, sneaking in front of Shiffrin by a hair. Austria’s Steph Brunner sat in third, .54 off the pace. 

During the second run, the athletes put on quite the show for the 5,000+ spectators in the venue, and the millions of those watching across the world. Having had the second-fastest time in the first run, Shiffrin was running 29th. She came down with a healthy lead of 1.3 seconds over Slovakian rival Petra Vlhova, but Gut was yet to come. Gut skied a near-perfect run, with fast splits all the way down, but in the end, Shiffrin bested her by .14 seconds.

This victory was an emotional one for Shiffrin, who lost her father during the 2019-20 season and struggled to find her normal acute focus and drive during the 2021-22 season. Overcome with emotion as she stood atop the podium, Shiffrin looked relieved…perhaps not because she proved to the world that she still had what it takes to win, but she proved to herself that she has what it takes. 

A solid prep period in the offseason coupled with teammates that have been pushing the pace was a recipe for success for Shiffrin. “My teammates are pushing the pace really high, so I’m pushing too, so it’s been a really good build-up and a great way to start the season,” she reflected. “It’s so cool. Like I said, the last two weeks we’ve all been pushing each other, and I see them skiing and think, ‘I have to keep raising my level too, because you’re here and you’re hungry…and everybody’s hungry, and I feel that motivation. It’s so amazing to have the pace coming from the United States. That’s…special. I’ve never experienced that, in this way, in my career so far…so it’s really cool.”

O’Brien, who finished in a career-best ninth place, was happy to be racing again, yet is hungry for more. “It felt great to be racing again, I don’t think we could have asked for a better day…unbelievable snow, clear skies all day, and it feels so good to have the crowd back. For me, personally, I was really nervous before the first run, so it’s definitely a relief to have one race done. I showed some good skiing, I feel like I have a little more…but all in all I’m satisfied. Teammates AJ Hurt and Paula Moltzan both finished in the top 25 as well, in 20th and 23rd, respectively. It was a great start for this relatively young squad in the first Olympic qualifying event of the season. 

Keely Cashman, who was returning to the World Cup start gate for the first time in 10 months, after sustaining a minor MCL strain, hematoma in both hips, and a temporary loss of feeling in her foot from bruising from a super-G training crash at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, did not qualify for a second run…but she did overcome some demons by sending it down the Rettenbach glacier track. 

On the men’s side, veteran and 2020 Bormio World Cup super-G victor Ryan Cochran-Siegle, who suffered from a “minor broken neck,” as he stated on his Instagram, will be returning to competition for the first time since his crash on the Hahnenkamm at Kitzbuehel, Austria. Cochran-Siegle will lead a promising group of up-and-comers, including River Radamus, Bridger Gile, George Steffey, and the former University of New Hampshire Wildcat Patrick Kenney—who will get his inaugural World Cup start. 

As far as viewing goes, fans have two options. NBC’s Peacock will once again be streaming the event live and it will be available on-demand, and the races will also be offered free of charge with English commentary at Skiworldcuplive.

Giant Slalom

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