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Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova Keeps Shiffrin From Reaching Record-Breaking Victory

Shiffrin's longtime rival stole the show in the Flachau night slalom to claim her first World Cup victory this season.

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Fresh off her 82nd World Cup victory in Slovenia, Mikaela Shiffrin was expected to win her 83rd race in Flachau, Austria, and surpass Lindsey Vonn’s women’s record of 82. The expectations aren’t necessarily fair, but that’s what happens when your winning percentage is 0.352 percent—a better stat than blockbuster athletes like Serena Williams (0.304 percent) and Tiger Woods (0.221 percent).

But today was not the record-breaking day for Shiffrin. Instead, it was longtime rival Petra Vlhova from Slovakia’s who stole the show, winning her first World Cup race of the season.

Under the lights and in front of 13,000 flag-waving, horn-blowing ski fans, Vlhova charged down Flachau’s slalom—on a course with manmade rollers—as if she were a ski cross racer, absorbing the bumps like a pro. The Slovakian trains for this kind of course, seeking out practice hills with similar features. After two runs, she was 0.43 seconds ahead of Shiffrin, who finished second. German’s Lena Duerr rounded out the podium.

Watch: Mikaela Shiffrin finishes second in 2023 Flachau World Cup slalom

“I am proud I could beat Mikaela because this season she is really strong, and if you want to beat her you need to ski above her and perfect, not good,” Vlhova told the press. “I guess if you beat Mikaela it means you are really strong.”

It was an emotional win for Vlhova—last year’s World Cup slalom champion. Since the first races of the season in Levi, Finland, she has stood on the podium seven times but had yet to win. When she finally took the stop step of the podium in Flachau, tears rolled down her cheeks.

“I’m really happy because it was a long, long way to come back here,” she said, referring to the winner’s seat.

Vlhova has now won the Flachau slalom three times, second only to Shiffrin, who’s got four Flachau wins on her resume.

Battling a stomach bug, Shiffrin was still happy with many of her turns—“I had some turns I love to feel”—but perhaps was happier for her rival.

“Petra skied amazing tonight, and she deserves the victory,” said Shiffrin. “So ideally, there’s not a story about how I’m feeling. I earned a second place, and she earned the victory tonight, and that was quite an amazing show.”

Her second-place in Flachau was perhaps not a surprise. Although she has won this famous Austrian night slalom a record four times (more than any other woman), it’s a course that challenges her with its manmade rollers and terrain.

“Some of the other girls, when they ski it, they kind of throw themselves down the hill,” said Shiffrin earlier in the season. “It’s a funky hill,” Shiffrin added after the first run today. It leans to the right and challenges her balance. And she has to remind herself to keep her foot on the gas as she skis over the rollers.

Related: Mikaela Shiffrin and teammates reveal their favorite and most-dreaded World Cup courses

Not far behind Shiffrin, Paula Moltzan had a banner night, finishing fifth. In tenth after the first run, Moltzan skied the fourth fastest second run—tying Shiffrin’s second-run time—and jumped to fifth.

“I’m really happy to end off a crazy tech series with another top five in slalom,” said Moltzan. “It feels good to be building consistency and having fun while doing it.”

Farther down results, Lila Lapanja, who is not on the U.S. team, has a Slovenian coach, and has trained with the Croatians, earned World Cup points for only the third time with 23rd place. Nina O’Brien scored her first World Cup points in slalom since her crash at the 2022 Beijing Olympic Games last winter. In 20th after the first run, O’Brien was thrown off on a roller and had to hike during her second run. But she still finished 24th.

Shiffrin’s record-breaking win will now have to wait for the next World Cup—but not the St. Anton speed races this weekend. Shiffrin is going to rest, then prepare for Cortina the following weekend. The next tech races (slalom and giant slalom) will be held in the Czech Republic on the last weekend in January.

“I am looking forward to Cortina, but it comes pretty quickly,” said Shiffrin, who made it through awards and TV interviews before throwing up. “I’ll get some recovery, and then I’m back into it.”

All along, Shiffrin has been perfectly clear that gaining her 83rd World Cup victory is not one of her goals. She skis not to set records, but for the love of the sport and the love of the perfect carved turn. In fact, she does not even like using the word “breaking” or “broke” (as in “breaking the record” or “broke the record”), which have negative connotations. She prefers to think of it as “resetting” the women’s record.

But for those who are counting, Shiffrin’s second place in Flachau is her 130th World Cup podium finish.