The long-awaited moment came today, Friday, March 10, 2023, in Åre, Sweden, when Mikaela Shiffrin made history and tied with Ingemar Stenmark for the record for most Alpine World Cup victories.
Giant Slalom is the American’s second strongest discipline; she now holds 20 victories today. She is also set to win the 22/23 Giant Slalom season title, more than 200 points ahead of Petra Vlhova and Lara Gut-Behrami, who are in second and third place, respectively. But Shiffrin was entirely out of reach for her biggest competitors today. Third-ranked Lara Gut-Behrami missed a gate after just 15 seconds into the first run and ended her hunt for the podium and the Giant Slalom crystal globe prematurely. Ironically, the course had been set by her coach and second-ranked Vlhova missed out on a podium today, finishing almost 1.5 seconds behind the American in fourth.
Giant Slalom is run in two runs, and the second run is held in reverse order for the top 30 qualified skiers from the first run. Shiffrin had qualified from the first run in first place, meaning she was last to race the second run. Her first run had been more than half a second faster than the second-placed ski racer Valerie Grenier and she was a very strong favorite going into the second run.
Federica Brignone had qualified in fourth place in the first run and skied a fantastic second run — the fastest second run of the day — securing her second place. If it had not been for a small mistake near the finish line, she could have potentially pipped Mikaela Shiffrin, but the American had put down such a strong first run that she still won first place despite a second run that was only the sixth-fastest second run. The combined time was still 0.64 seconds ahead of second-placed Brignone.
“My skiing was again really good on the upper part, and then I started making some mistakes because I wanted to push, push, push. The goal was to catch Mikaela for sure. Or at least do my best and then see what happens. This is alpine skiing, and everything can happen. But she is skiing amazing,” Brignone admitted in an interview after the race.
Austria’s Franziska Gritsch, who had been third after the first run, wiped out close to the finish area, ending her bid for the podium. The Austrian had placed third last week in the Super-G in Norway. Canadian Valerie Grenier had placed second in the first run but committed too many mistakes on her second run, costing her valuable time and relegating her to sixth place. Third place went instead to Sweden’s Sara Hector, who had come in sixth after the first run but put down the second fastest second run of the day, catapulting her into second place on home turf.
Shiffrin was last to complete the second run and had 1.04 seconds advantage on Brignone. The American could not quite match the pace of the Italian, but she put down a near flawless run and had the victory in the bag. The crowd in the finish area exploded when she crossed the finish line, and Shiffrin was beyond elated, realizing she had just managed to tie with Stenmark’s record of 86 World Cup victories.
This takes her career record to 86 victories. Coincidence has it Åre was also the location of her first World Cup victory in 2012. Mikaela has competed at 27 FIS Alpine World Cup events this season — the most ever — and won 12 of those races.
Swiss skier Wendy Holdener commented in an interview in the finish area, “It is crazy what she has achieved, what she can do. She is always able to bring it on the day. She is always traveling, and it’s hard, but she just brings it. She has the advantage of having her mom there, which I am sure is nice for her. But she is so strong across three disciplines. It is incredible.”
It surely will be an emotional day and week for Mikaela and her family, especially considering her father, Jeff would have turned 69 this week. Jeff Shiffrin passed away three years ago after an accident at home. Shiffrin admits to still struggling with her father’s death but has shown incredible resilience in returning from the trauma and taking her career to new strengths.