Twelve years after the unexpected triumph of a Czech champion in slalom at the 2007 Alpine Ski World Championships at Are, another racer from former Czechoslovakia celebrated a major victory in the famous Swedish resort as Slovakia’s frontrunner Petra Vlhova beat all the other top-favorites on Thursday in a very challenging yet exciting giant slalom.
The 23-year-old athlete from nearby Jasna, in Nizke Tatry, became the first ever alpine racer to clinch gold at FIS (senior) World Championships after beating by 14/100 of a second the 2010 Olympic Champion Viktoria Rebensburg and by 38/100 America’s threat Mikaela Shiffrin, a three-time winner in the specialty this season. Vlhova had already captured gold in slalom in February 2014 at the junior FIS Worlds held in her resort.
Norway’s Ragnhild Mowinckel was 4th, missing bronze medal by mere 12/100 finishing ahead of two other favorites, Italy’s Federica Brignone and defending World Champion Tessa Worley from France.
Yet while Sarka Zahrobka-Strachova’s slalom success was a small surprise in 2007 as she hadn’t won a World Cup race before finishing ahead of Austria’s striking Marlies Schild, the great slalom dominator that winter, it was surely not the case for Petra, now an established giant slalom specialist this winter with two victories in Semmering, Austria, and in Maribor, Slovenia.
Petra went for it
“This is absolutely amazing, I can’t believe it, this means so much for our small team and me, we have been working very hard for this,” commented Petra after the race. “I attacked hard and made many mistakes but I kept pushing myself to the limits all the time. The weather and course conditions were very difficult but I remained very focused throughout the day,” also said the tall and athletic Slovak star who already grabbed silver last week in the combined event after an excellent downhill leg.
She will for sure be fighting for more on Saturday in the women’s slalom. Three years ago, Petra celebrated in December 2015 her maiden World Cup win at Are. She was only 16 when she was a remarkable 11th in her first World Cup race at Semmering in December 2012. Her trainers believe in her potential to too excel in the speed events too as Mikaela Shiffrin nowadays.
2nd after the first giant slalom leg, only a few hundredths behind Rebensburg, Vlhova achieved as so often this winter a blistering second run afterwards. Pushing very hard in the final part of the course, she took the lead in the intermediate rankings – and kept it till the end of the race. Her German rival, the fastest skier at both intermediate times, could not prevail on the final part of the windy slope and had to be content with her second silver medal at World Championships.
“It was tough and I was a little disappointed after the second run, but it was difficult for all of us. Yet I want to consider that I have won silver and not lost gold,” the two-time giant slalom World Cup Champion explained. “The other day, I finished 4th in the Super-G race which was pretty hard, so it’s good for me and my team to leave Are with at least a medal.”
Mikaela was satisfied
Interestingly enough, Mikaela Shiffrin, silver medalist in giant slalom at St Moritz 2017, was also pleased with her latest podium finish even though she was considered as the skier to beat in that competition after her Super-G victory last week. “I was very happy after the race. I was only 4th after the first run, so I was not fully confident about my chances for a medal afterwards,” she told the press. “Those conditions were very challenging. It was quite a strange race for me. It was for sure difficult to have that kind of wind. It was really windy at the start but you have to deal with it.”
“I couldn’t find my best rhythm in the first run but I was more aggressive in the second one. I was thinking about my poor performance last year at Semmering in the giant slalom which took place by similar conditions. I was only 5th there.”
“I am not surprised my Petra’s success, I expected her to be a good giant slalom skier after watching saw her at Soelden a few years ago. She is raising the level of competition for all of us. It’s kind of a fight all the time. Yet this is also very motivating as she keeps pushing me to be better.”
“To get that bronze after my gold the other day in Super-G is really a dream-come-thru for me. I really like Are which has become special to me after my first win here six years ago. People are nice and the crowd is very fair. For me it’s always a pleasure to race in Are in that nice atmosphere,” Shiffrin also stated.
As the rest of the field, Mikaela Shiffrin hopes that the weather conditions will soon improve in that part of Sweden where it has even been raining this week. “To be honest it was difficult to see the speed events starting from the reserve start as it has been the case today in our race because of the weather pattern,” she said at the post-race press conference.
The American is now looking forward for Saturday’s slalom which could bring her a seventh FIS medal. “My slalom skiing has been really good especially since Maribor, I certainly feel more comfortable in slalom also in these conditions. It’ll be a big fight with the other top champions for sure.”
Written by: Patrick Lang