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For the first time since 2019, Mikaela Shiffrin was once again crowned the Snow Queen in Zagreb.
On an unseasonably warm afternoon and evening in Zagreb, Croatia, Shiffrin stormed down the Crveni Spust (translation: red descent) trail—a white ribbon on a carpet of green—to collect her 81st World Cup victory 51st in slalom. She is now just one win shy of tying Lindsey Vonn’s women’s record of 82 World Cup wins, and five short of Ingemar Stenmark’s high-water mark of 86 victories.
“The victory [today] is incredible, but I’m more happy with how I felt,” Shiffrin said.
Due to persistent warmth in Europe including Zagreb, race organizers were forced to shorten the course by about 10 seconds. With temperatures climbing into the 50s (Fahrenheit), the slalom course was so rugged that a third of the field did not finish the first run (including three Americans).
Yet Shiffrin managed to post the fastest first run time, 0.22 seconds ahead of Sweden’s Anna Swenn-Larsson and over a half-second ahead of Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova, who has won the past three Snow Queen trophies in Zagreb.
Watch: Mikaela Shiffrin wins 2023 Zagreb slalom
Then under the lights, Shiffrin held her lead in the second run, while Vlhova bumped up to second place, 0.76 seconds behind her American rival, and Swenn-Larsson fell to third. (Meanwhile, another third of the field was bounced from the course in the second run.)
In the past, Shiffrin has struggled with racing on soft snow. So she and her team have worked with Atomic, her longtime sponsor, to find a ski that would work for her on warm days—which are becoming more and more prevalent, especially in Europe this winter.
“Today I got to try [the skis] for the first time in a race,” she added. “That was the most exciting thing of the day, that I felt so good skiing when it’s a bit softer.”
With one more slalom in Zagreb on the docket tomorrow, Shiffrin could tie Vonn’s record this week—just a little over a decade after her first World Cup win. But still, for Shiffrin, it’s about the skiing, not about the numbers.
“I was able to do really my best skiing on both runs and I am so happy and proud and also thankful for that because it feels so good,” she commented. “It’s a reminder at this point, after 81 victories, that I can really, really enjoy skiing when I’m skiing like that. For my coaches, for the whole team around me, they see it in training and everybody’s hopeful that I’m going to put it into a race. The last five races—it’s been a different kind of level.”
Shiffrin’s recent win streak, and her victory record over the course of her career, is what makes Shiffrin not only a remarkable skier, but one of the best athletes of all time.
Her winning percentage is just shy of Stenmark’s. The Swedish legend competed in 230 World Cup races and won 37.4 percent of the time. Shiffrin surpassed Stenmark in World Cup starts (she’s now competed in 231 races) and has won 35.1 percent of them.
It’s an astounding success rate, especially in a sport with so many variables—warm weather being just one. Stats compiled by NBC Olympics show how Shiffrin and Stenmark compare to other sports legends: Serena Williams only won 30.4 percent of her matches while Roger Federer won 28.1 percent of the time; Tiger Woods’s winning percentage stands at 20.8 percent and Vonn’s at 20.8 percent.
Shiffrin’s latest streak of wins—five in a row, starting with the St. Moritz super-G in mid-December—is like riding a wave, she said, one she knows will eventually end. But not today.
With five Snow Queen titles to her name, Shiffrin surpassed childhood idol Marlies Schild who won the Zagreb World Cup four times. Shiffrin last won the Snow Queen title in 2019; she first won the crown a decade ago—the second of her 81 wins.
“It’s such a special place for me to race,” she said. “There’s so much history here for me and tonight I just felt like I had so much fun.”
Shiffrin’s teammates had less fun in Zagreb. Less than a week after earning her first World Cup slalom podium, Moltzan was charging down the first run when she straddled a flush (three gates set tight in a row). Moltzan was just 0.07 seconds off Shiffrin’s first-run time when she skied out of the course.
Ava Sunshine, who scored her first World Cup points in her debut race back in November, also DNFed, as did Lila Lapanja.
Katie Hensien just missed qualifying for a second run, as did Zoe Zimmerman and Nina O’Brien, who is still working her way back into the points after breaking her leg at the 2022 Olympic Winter Games.
But they all get another chance tomorrow. As does Shiffrin, who could tie Vonn’s World Cup record tomorrow, then surpass her either this weekend in two World Cup giant slaloms or next week at a slalom in Flachau, Austria.
“I’m just in a groove, and I’ll just keep riding the wave until the wave is over,” said Shiffrin. “At some point, it’s going to be finished, especially after Flachau. I’m going to be totally dead, but then we get two days off and then go again. That’s the season. It’s tiring, but also exciting.”