America’s wondergirl Mikaela Shiffrin enjoyed another nearly perfect weekend in Slovenia where she achieved a clean sweep at the 55th ‘Golden Fox’ event at Maribor, one of the oldest and most popular ‘Ski Classics’ on the women’s circuit.
The defending overall World Cup champion shared victory on Friday in the opening giant slalom with her usual main rival Petra Vlhova but she crushed once more the rest of the field the next day in slalom which brought her the 13th season win this winter – and her 56th World Cup triumph since December 2012.
A two-time slalom winner at Maribor in recent years, Shiffrin never excelled there in giant slalom so far, finishing a best 4th on the gentle Pohorje course two years ago. But after dominating the recent giant slalom races at Courchevel and Kronplatz/San Vigilio, the skier from Vail Valley was looking for much more this time. In fact, she clearly set the best time in the first run ahead of Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova and French Tessa Worley, winners this winter at Semmering and Soelden, while other favorites such as Germany’s Viktoria Rebensburg or Italy’s Federica Brignone skied out.
Taking great risks in the second leg Vlhova put once more much some pressure on her main contender who committed a mistake in the final part of her second run – forcing her to share victory with her arch-rival. Worley also lost much time in the last gates after an unforced error, allowing Norway’s Ragnhild Mowinckel to reach her first podium this year after some disappointing results in recent weeks.
“We all fight hard to win alone, that’s sure, but sometimes it’s also nice to share victory with another racer who also deserves it,” Shiffrin explained at the post-race press conference. “Petra had another great second run today, she is a tough fighter,” the 26-year-old American added.
In fact, Petra Vlhova agreed afterwards that she felt she has nothing to lose in that final run which helped her to move at her limits from top to bottom. “I made a few mistakes this morning so I knew I could do better with a solid run so I really went for it afterwards,” she explained at the press conference. “It’s really special to win another giant slalom race today – and reached my only second podium in the specialty,” added the Slovakian racer who was not so happy last month with her 4th place at Kronplatz/ San Vigilio. “It’s pretty amazing…”
“I am also very happy for my numerous fans who travelled so far to support me here, it’s a great feeling for me,” Petra also said. She will aim for more great results in the coming weeks, especially now at Are, where she’ll return with much confidence. As Shiffrin, Vlhova enjoyed her maiden World Cup victory in the Swedish resort three years ago.
Mikaela Shiffrin had another reason to be satisfied after that exciting race as she increased her lead in the giant slalom standings with only two races left in the specialty. Tessa Worley, only 9th in that race, is now 81 points behind her while Petra Vlhova moved up to 3rd place with a delay in 137 points… Shiffrin has now a good chance to reach one of her main goals in March at Spindleruv Mlyn, in Czech Republic, capturing her first crystal globe in that specialty!
Mikaela’s position in the slalom standings is much stronger after her seventh season win in the specialty as she leads the classification with an advantage of 135 points on Petra Vlhova, who failed to reach the podium in slalom for the first time this winter.
While Shiffrin achieved two consistent runs in a row, the determined champion from Jasna didn’t find her best rhythm in the afternoon after clocking the 2nd fastest time in the morning. Her aggressive skiing didn’t fit the soft snow conditions, forcing her to be content with a more modest and certainly disappointing 5th place – 1,70 seconds from the winner.
Sweden’s Anna Swenn-Larsson and Switzerland’s Wendy Holdener, an excellent 4th on Friday, took advantage of her problems to fill-up the podium places behind Shiffrin. While it already was the 20th podium finish for Wendy, who still aims for her first slalom victory on the World Cup tour, it was only the second one for the Swede who rebounded from disappointment in Flachau. In Austria, she was disqualified for straddling a gate in the final run on the very moment she was standing on the winners’ podium at the finish area.
Her teammate Frida Hansdotter, the reigning Olympic champion, came in 4th ahead of Vlhova and Austria’s Bernadette Schild. Gabriela Capova from the Czech team managed to score again a few points finishing 26th . This result will help her to improve her position in the international slalom ranking before the next races.
“Every victory is a fight – yet today it was also a battle with the conditions,” Shiffrin told the press after the race. “The snow was soft and it was warm so it was more difficult to find the right feeling on the bumpy course in the afternoon,” she added. “I tried hard to ski smart and not make a stupid mistake. It was more a tactical run and I was happy to get thru in a safe way. When I am racing I am always focusing on making my best turns – not about winning.”
With a total of thirteen wins within two and half months, Shiffrin is now only a single victory away from the best season mark set by Switzerland’s Vreni Schneider back in 1989. She still has plenty of occasions left for it – including if necessary a Super-G race at the Finals in Andorra next March. There are four technical races left on her program till the end of the season.
She can face the 2019 Are Alpine Ski World Championships which starts this week in Sweden with great confidence after having celebrated four victories in a row in three different specialties – Super-G in Cortina d’Ampezzo, giant slalom at Kronplatz/San Vigilio and Maribor, and slalom also in Slovenia.
In Sweden, the overall World Cup leader is aiming for more medals on the very slope on which she won her maiden World Cup race back in December 2012 – such as a possible fourth consecutive gold medal in slalom and maybe a few more also in giant slalom or Super-G. It’s also possible that she may enter the combined event according to her form and the weather conditions.
Back in 2007, Sweden’s superstar Anja Paerson collected three gold medals at Are winning the two speed races and the combined.
Petra Vlhova, Wendy Holdener, Tessa Worley and a few young Austrian surely will give their best to prevent Shiffrin to achieve those ambitious goals. “I feel comfortable at Are,” she also said at Maribor. “I’ll do my best to stay relaxed and fully enjoy those upcoming World Championships. Medal events can be surprising but that what make them also exciting.”
Written by: Patrick Lang