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In one of the most exciting women’s giant slaloms of the season, Mikaela Shiffrin nearly nabbed her first World Championship GS title. Instead, a razor-thin margin of 0.02 seconds forced Shiffrin to settle for silver behind Switzerland’s Lara Gut-Behrami.
The Swiss skier, who’s a veteran on the World Cup circuit, has never medaled in giant slalom. But she’s been unstoppable at this World Championships in Cortina, collecting three gold medals across three different disciplines: downhill, super-G, and now GS.
“Today I was tired but I just tried to enjoy it,” said Gut-Behrami after the race. “My coaches were telling me I was skiing good, to just do it. It’s unbelievable. Coming through the finish line I already knew I had a medal, and it’s the first time I’ve won a medal in GS. But to win the gold—it’s unbelievable.”
Austria’s Katharina Liensberger collected the bronze after finishing just 0.09 seconds out from Gut-Behrami’s winning time.
Among all the women’s disciplines, the giant slalom has emerged as the most competitive this season, with many talented racers within podium reach. As a result, today’s giant slalom was one of the most highly anticipated and closely contested races of this World Championships.
Shiffrin led the field after a phenomenal first run. But teammate Nina O’Brien wasn’t far behind. Starting with bib 19, O’Brien skied the best giant slalom run of her career and crossed the finish line just 0.02 seconds off Shiffrin’s time, good enough to slot into second ahead of Gut-Behrami, who finished only 0.08 seconds off Shiffrin’s pace.
O’Brien’s second run looked strong through the top and middle sections of the course, but in the lower section she started losing momentum and crossed the finish line in 10th place overall—still her best GS result to date.
Shiffrin, too, skied at the top of her game through most of her second run, and it looked like she would maintain her first-run-lead to claim her first GS World Champion title. But just before the finish she seemed to run out of gas and skied across the finish line a heartbreaking 0.02 seconds off Gut-Behrami’s overall time.
Watch: Mikaela Shiffrin vs. Lara Gut-Behrami in World Championship GS
“I knew this was going to be a tiring course because it’s a lot more turning across the hill and a lot more pressure on your legs in every single turn,” Shiffrin conceded after the race. “By the time I was getting to the bottom I was really feeling it. I just kept thinking, ‘Keep pushing.’ That was just the best that I could do.”
Would Shiffrin have liked to have won gold and collected the title still missing from her World Championship portfolio? Of course. But at the end of the day, all that really matters to her is that she’s putting down her best skiing.
“It’s always like, ‘What could I have done that would have been two-hundredths faster?’ That’s pretty much anything,” Shiffrin said after the race. “But I’m actually pretty excited …Getting even a silver [medal] and hanging on to a medal when there’s really big competition for the podium today—there are so many girls within three-tenths or five-tenths of a second—it was really not guaranteed, so it’s pretty cool. Being able to put some of my very best turns out there today in both runs was pretty exciting.”
Whatever the color of this medal, it comes as the 10th World Championship medal of Shiffrin’s career. And she may not be done sweeping up yet. Shiffrin will have one more chance to collect some hardware on Feb. 20, when the women go head to head in slalom in their final race of the 2021 World Championships.
Shiffrin, four-time reigning Slalom World Champion, will certainly look to defend her titles in this final race.
“I’m looking forward to the slalom. I just need to get a little bit of recovery before that, and then go for it one more time in this World Champs.”