July 17th, 2024

Shiffrin beats Slovakian skier Vlhova for emotional win in World Cup night race in Austria

By Eric Willemsen, The Associated Press on January 16, 2024.

FLACHAU, Austria (AP) – Mikaela Shiffrin celebrated an emotional win in a women’s World Cup night race Tuesday, edging out Slovakian skier Petra Vlhova in another gripping duel of their ongoing slalom rivalry.

The American ski star trailed Vlhova by 0.07 seconds after the first run but posted the second-fastest time in the final run to win the race by 0.27.

Olympic giant slalom champion Sara Hector was 1.11 behind in third for the Swede’s first-ever podium in slalom.

It was Shiffrin’s 94th career win and came nine days after she didn’t finish the previous slalom while battling a cold, and two days after she visited her partner Aleksander Aamodt Kilde in a hospital in Switzerland following the Norwegian skier’s crash in a downhill.

“I’m really proud of this evening and very thankful for my whole team,” said Shiffrin, who was in tears after the race that was attended by her brother Taylor and sister-in-law Kristi.

“The last days have been challenging and (my team has) been so supportive and helped me to see Alex.”

The course for the final showdown was set by Magnus Andersson, the head coach of U.S. women’s tech team. Shiffrin had a mistake early in her run, but won time on her competitors in the remaining sections to put pressure on first-run leader Vlhova.

The Slovakian initially gained some time but struggled from the middle part of course, coming wide in a few turns and being slightly hampered by a gate that broke and rolled down the course after she passed it.

“Of course, it’s not comfortable but luckily it didn’t get under my ski,” Vlhova said. “I did many mistakes, the second run I started to lose position. If you want to win, you need a perfect run. I knew she did a good run, so I needed to find something inside me to push more.”

Shiffrin said she had regained her strength after her illness and skipping a three-race speed event in nearby Altenmark-Zauchensee over the weekend, but she was affected by Kilde’s crash, in which the Norwegian suffered a dislocated shoulder and a cut in his calf.

“I feel 100 percent healthy again, though the last days were not a lot of sleep, but that’s a different kind of thing,” Shiffrin said.

In the first run, set by Swedish team coach Manuel Gamper, both Shiffrin and Vlhova had all-attacking runs as they built a substantial lead over the rest of the field.

“I felt quite strong with my skiing, so I’m super happy with it,” Shiffrin said. “When I crossed the finish, I thought it takes a specific run to be faster. I knew Petra can do that.”

Vlhova lost time on the American in the first section but built her advantage in the middle part of the floodlit Griessenkar course.

“I really enjoyed it,” Vlhova said. “It’s really easy and I had to attack, so I tried to attack as much as I could.”

Shiffrin has now won four and Vlhova three of the seven slaloms so far this season, with the American leading her rival by 25 points in the discipline standings.

Shiffrin’s teammate AJ Hurt, who finished third in the previous slalom, was on course for another top-10 finish, posting the ninth-fastest time in the first run before skiing out in her second run.

Another teammate, Paula Moltzan, was the fastest starter in the opening run but then had an awkward crash when she straddled a gate and her left ski went up in the air, forcing her leg to bend sideward.

However, the American avoided injuries.

“My knee is absolutely fine, which is really lucky,” Moltzan said. “I just landed on my pole on my back, so I feel like I have a bruise on my back. I’m lucky that I’m really flexible.”

Several lower-ranked skiers finished in the top 15, most notably Dzenifera Germane of Latvia, who started 50th and finished eighth, and Italian-born Lara Colturi, who competes for Albania, who wore bib 60 and finished ninth.

The women’s World Cup continues with a GS and slalom this weekend in Jasna, close to Vlhova’s hometown.


More AP skiing: https://apnews.com/hub/skiing

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