Mikaela Shiffrin has started the new year as strong as she finished the last, with a smashing victory in Slalom at the Women’s FIS Alpine World Cup in Zagreb, Croatia. This marks her 81st World Cup victory, her 51st Slalom victory, and her fifth win in Zagreb.
Competing for Team USA were Mikaela Shiffrin with bib 7, Paula Moltzan with bib 15, Zoe Zimmerman with bib 37, Lila Lapanja with bib 41, Nina O’Brien with bib 44, Ava Sunshine with bib 46 and Katie Hensien with bib 48.
‘La Shiffrin’ went into the lead with a solid first run 0.23 seconds ahead of Sweden’s Anna Swenn Larsson. Petra Vlhova came in third, 0.55 seconds behind the American, while Switzerland’s Wendy Holdener, Mikaela’s strongest competitor in Slalom racing, came in sixth place. Germany’s Lena Dürr, who had won Bronze in the last Slalom race, made a grave mistake and did not qualify for a second run, as only the top 30 skiers qualify. Unfortunately, none of the other Team USA skiers managed to qualify for run 2.
The course in Croatia seemed very slushy and caused many top athletes to struggle, with 21 World Cup skiers not finishing the first run. Canada’s Laurence St. Germain struggled in the mid-section and came 30th, securing her the last spot for the second run, meaning she was the first skier for the second run as it is run in reverse order.
The sun started to set for the second run in Zagreb, meaning the course was firming up again and becoming faster. Canada’s Laurence St. German was the first skier and showed her true potential, smashing a near-flawless run in 47.15 seconds, almost two whole seconds faster than Mikaela’s winning first run. Ultimately, it was enough to catapult her into 14th place overall. Aside from fifth-placed Ali Nullmeyer, Canada’s other ski racer, that evening was Amelia Smart, who put down two technically clean runs, earning her 8th place, which is her Personal Best in individual Slalom racing at a World Cup.
Everyone’s eyes were on the last six skiers, who had a real podium chance. Switzerland’s Wendy Holdener managed to go into the lead with her second run, leading by almost an entire second ahead of the field, demonstrating just why this season’s winner from Sestriere, Italy, and Killington, USA, was a force to be reckoned with. Fifth-placed Ali Nullmeyer from Canada was up next but made some early mistakes. Then just ahead of the midsection, she skidded out with her outside ski, sending the inside to the wrong side of the pole, ending her race abruptly. Fourth-placed Austrian Katharina Liensberger was flying down on her second run next, battling through the course but wiping out near the finish line. She did manage to climb back up and ski around the pole she had missed, but she lost so much time doing so it meant she was down to a disappointing 20th place. This is what makes Slalom racing so exciting — anything is possible.
Now it was down to the best three skiers from the first run. All are very experienced skiers, but as we have seen, anything can happen. Third-placed Petra Vlhova was up next. The course was rutted by now, but the Slovak showed her technical strength and managed to take the lead from Wendy Holdener, meaning she had a guaranteed podium as only two skiers were left. The relief was visible on Vlhova’s face. Anna Swenn Larsson was second placed after the first run, but she struggled on her second run, especially on the bottom bit of the course, and could not beat the Slovak. However, it was enough to beat Wendy Holdener, so a podium for the Swede was guaranteed.
Last up was Mikaela Shiffrin. Zagreb was now pitch black, the floodlights providing the only light. Mikaela made minor errors on the top section but could consistently extend her lead on Petra Vlhova. She kept gaining speed and confidence on the lower section and cleared it without any faults, cementing her lead and extending her time to 0.76 ahead of the Slovak. Mikaela looked elated in the finish area. She embraced Petra and Anna, two fellow slalom skiers she has shared the podium with several times.
This marks World Cup title number 81 for Mikaela and means she is now only one victory away from matching Lindsey Vonn’s record of 82 World Cup victories. There is a second Slalom event at Zagreb this week, so it could all happen tomorrow, Thursday, January 5, 2023. Be sure to watch history being made!