Mikaela Shiffrin completes sweep in Semmering
American skier wins three races in three days
American Mikaela Shiffrin was already known as a slalom maestro before this week’s competitions in Semmering, Austria, which included three races in three days.
Shiffrin won all 12 FIS Audi World Cup slalom races she has competed in since February of last year. She also was the slalom leader in this year’s circuit heading into this week’s events.
But before reaching the slalom portion on Thursday, the 21-year-old skier tackled two giant slalom races, a discipline that Shiffrin hasn’t won on the World Cup circuit since 2014.
Thanks to a historic performance week, Shiffrin left this week’s portion of the circuit as somewhat of a giant slalom master. She won all three races in three days, including back-to-back victories in giant slalom, solidifying her spot atop the World Cup standings with 798 points.
“I felt like I was fighting and I’m proud of that,” Shiffrin said. “I was trying to ski fast and have some fun. I’m still searching to have a perfect run and a really fast run and put one of my best runs of training in there. Sometimes it’s better to fight and I did that today. I’m happy.”
Shiffrin came into this week with just a five-point lead in the overall standings. By the end of it, she left with a 215-point lead. She, of course, remained the slalom leader, but where she made up the most ground was in the giant slalom standings. Though she still trails leader Tessa Worley of France, her two victories in the discipline pulled her within 35 points.
“At this point, there is still a chance,” Shiffrin said in regards to competing for the giant slalom title. “But I have to ski really, really well in every race for the rest of the season. Right now, I’m just trying my best to fight in each race and have fun with it. Today was really fun, and I like that feeling.”
The giant slalom races set to take place in France last week were cancelled, so skiers on the circuit used Tuesday as an opportunity to make up a lost day. Unlike slalom racing, giant slalom isn’t Shiffrin’s specialty, but that all changed on Tuesday.
Thanks to a blistering first run of 59.91 seconds, the only skier in the field to break a minute on any run, Shiffrin stole a giant slalom victory for the first time in two years.
“I felt really good just going for it [on Tuesday],” Shiffrin said. “I wasn’t trying to ski perfect; I was just trying to ski fast. I believed in myself for the first time in a [giant slalom] race, and that was very emotional. To win, that’s amazing. But I don’t expect to win every [giant slalom race] now.”
But she wasn’t done there.
On Wednesday, the actual scheduled giant slalom event for the week, Shiffrin’s momentum carried over on her way to her second win in the discipline in as many days, despite a snowstorm attempting to slow competitors down. From not winning in two years to winning two in a row, Shiffrin’s confidence was at an all-time high.
“Two days ago, I was wondering if I would ever win a [giant slalom] again, and now I have three wins [in my career], so that is a really special feeling that I have,” Shiffrin said.
But again, Shiffrin wasn’t done.
Finally, Thursday came around for the slalom races; Shiffrin’s bread and butter. As the leader in the slalom standings heading into it and winner of two-straight giant slalom races, Shiffrin entered the competition with a target on her back.
Despite slalom being her stronger event this year, this was actually the one that gave her the most trouble this week. Veronika Velez-Zuzulová of Slovakia had just produced the fastest combined time after throwing down a second run in 49.87 seconds, putting the pressure on Shiffrin, who was the leader after the first run.
Shiffrin wasn’t bothered, despite feeling sick at the start of her race. She stepped up to the gate and not only was able to surpass Velez-Zuzulová, but she put together the fastest run of the day in 49.32 seconds to earn the win.
Shiffrin’s performance in Semmering was nothing short of historic. In addition to being a winner of three straight races, Shiffrin has now 26 World Cup wins under her belt in just six years on the U.S. Ski Team, which ties her with the recently-retired, 33-year-old Tina Maze of Slovenia on the all-time World Cup wins list.
Shiffrin is just 21 years old (though she turns 22 in March). To illustrate the point further, fellow American Lindsey Vonn had just three World Cup wins at Shiffrin’s age.
Despite her rise to the top, Shiffrin is just your typical 21-year-old having fun on the slopes.
“I’m just a 21-year-old girl!” Shiffrin joked. “Everybody has to stop telling me these things. I’m just trying to ski.”
Next up for Shiffrin and the women’s U.S. team will be another night of slalom in Zagreb on Jan. 3.
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