It was a good day for Team USA at the Women’s Slalom World Cup Finals in Soldeu, Andorra, on Saturday, March 18, 2023. Not only did Mikaela Shiffrin take home the 7th Slalom Crystal Globe of her career, but the Women’s Slalom Team also took home the coveted Slalom Nations Cup, which is based on the combined Slalom points earned by the Women’s Slalom Team. In this case, Mikaela Shiffrin and Paula Moltzan had collected the lion’s share of Slalom FIS points this season.
To qualify for the World Cup Finals, an athlete must rank in the top 30 at the end of the World Cup season. In addition, the winner from the Junior World Championships in that discipline receives an invite as well, which in this case was Sweden’s Hanna Aronsson Elfman.
The weather in Soldeu on Saturday was warm, and Ullr kept bringing surprises during the day, from sleet to snow to sunshine. The FIS Slalom event consists of two timed runs with the combined time counting. Favorite Mikaela Shiffrin, who currently has 53 Slalom World Cup victories, finished the first run in a disappointing fourth place. Her first run had been very fast until the bottom section just before the finish line, where the American went slightly backseat around a pole as she slid too low, costing her precious time and a chance to take the first position from archrival Petra Vlhova. Slovakia’s Vlhova had skied into first place with a 0.32-second lead ahead of Croatia’s Leona Popovic and 0.56 seconds ahead of Sweden’s Anna Swenn Larsson.
The second run in a Slalom race is in reverse order of the first run’s ranking with combined run times counting. The weather in Soldeu was coming in, and the snow started falling with increasing intensity, making conditions challenging. The weather, coupled with a tricky bogey gate just after the hump into the final steep bit, threw a curveball for many of these top athletes, and six of the 22 skiers failed to finish the second run, recording a dreaded DNF. This included Canada’s Laurence St Germain, the 2023 Slalom World Champion, who slid out on the bottom half of the Slalom course just as the visibility was picking up again.
Also, a victim of the bogey gate into the steep section was Paula Moltzan, who had finished in sixth on the first run. The American spun out in the transition into the last steep section and spun out. While she did not get disqualified and managed to back into the course, the spin-out cost her five seconds and resulted in her finishing last in 16th place. One also needs to remember that the American Slalom skier currently has 24 screws and two plates in her hand after breaking her left hand during the World Championships in Courchevel and Méribél, France, last month.
Last placed Jessica Hilzinger from Germany was the first starter and managed to put down a faster second run than her first, which is quite unusual. The German ski racer had just scraped into the Finals in 25th place, so the 25-year-old was stoked to hang on to the winner’s seat for ten further skiers before Sweden’s Sara Hector took the lead. In the end, the young German finished in sixth, a career-best.
Mikaela Shiffrin was the fourth-last starter, and everyone watched the seven-time World Cup title winner with bated breath after so many DNFs for the other competitors. Shiffrin weaved through the poles in her famous effortless-looking style with just a few minor mistakes and slides, taking the lead from Sweden’s Sara Hector. But there were three more skiers to go, and Shiffrin could miss out on a podium if all three had faster combined times. The American watched anxiously with her partner Alexander Aamodt Kilde from the leader’s seat in the finish area.
Third-last starter Anna Swenn Larsson looked fast and was poised to take the lead from Shiffrin but suddenly straddled a pole, ending her race for the podium frustratingly for the Swedish skier. This meant that Shiffrin had a guaranteed podium spot, and it was to be third place for the American skier.
Second-last starter Leona Popovic pipped the American by 0.43 seconds with an aggressive run with a minor error that cost her some time but not the lead. It was an exciting day for the 25-year-old Croatian, who had never podiumed before. In the end, Popovic finished in second. First time on the podium feels amazing, of course,” she said, elated in the finish area, “I had the feeling all the way through the season that I was maybe better than I showed, so I am so happy that I pushed two good runs today and it paid off.”
The final starter was Petra Vlhova, who had a 0.32-second lead ahead of Popovic. Not only did the Slovakian hang on to her lead, but she extended it slightly, finishing 0.43 seconds ahead of Popovic and, thus, 0.86 seconds ahead of Shiffrin. “I am super happy to finish the season like this,” the Slovakian, who had won the Slalom Crystal Globe last year, said afterward.
The Slalom Crystal Globe for the 22/23 World Cup season went to Mikaela Shiffrin with an incredible 945 points, almost 300 points ahead of second-ranked Wendy Holdener and more than 300 points ahead of Petra Vlhova. Shiffrin had won six of the ten Slalom World Cup events in 22/23 and placed second in three more.
“It was really fun to race. It is a challenging slope and kind of interesting to finish the season with that because, for me, it gives a lot of insight into the kind of things we can work on through the summer and into the preparation for next season,” Shiffrin mused after the race. “Every single race, I feel the weight of having to be one of the best in the world no matter what the day is, which is actually quite a privilege, but some days it’s quite heavy, but today it didn’t feel heavy. It just felt like a really good opportunity.” One can only imagine the weight the 28-year-old American ski racer carries, but she does it with such grace it certainly does not show.