Racing

Slalom Queen Mikaela Shiffrin Faces Uphill Battle at World Cup Finals

She's podiumed in 47 of her last 51 slalom races, but it might still not be enough to clinch her seventh World Cup Slalom Title.

Mikaela Shiffrin has had a phenomenal comeback season after the unexpected death of her father, along with the pandemic, put her racing on hold last February. In this weekend’s slalom double-header in Åre, Sweden—the final slalom events before the World Cup Finals—Shiffrin finished third and second, respectively.

Watch: Mikaela Shiffrin Makes Uncharacteristic Mistake in March 12 Åre Slalom

Shiffrin’s second-place finish to Austria’s Katharina Liensberger on March 13—which came on the American’s 26th birthday—marked her 47th time on the slalom podium in the last 51 slalom races. That’s a staggering 92-percent podium rate. What’s more: Shiffrin won 36 out of those 51 races.

Even so, Shiffrin’s two main rivals in the technical discipline—Petra Vlhova of Slovakia and Liensberger of Austria—have both had equally successful seasons. Shiffrin now trails both in World Cup points heading into the Finals, which takes place in Lenzerheide, Switzerland from March 17-21.

Watch: Katharina Liensberger Smokes the Competition in March 13 Åre Slalom

Essentially the Superbowl of alpine racing, the World Cup Finals gives the best racers in the world once last shot at claiming World Cup points in each racing discipline in the hopes of winning a coveted World Cup Crystal Globe and associated World Cup title.

While some Crystal Globes and discipline titles are already spoken for, others, like the women’s slalom title, are still very much up for grabs.

Vlhova, who won the 2020 Slalom Globe after Shiffrin missed the final races of last season, leads the slalom standings with 612 points. Liensberger jumped to second in the rankings with 590 points thanks to her maiden World Cup slalom victory in Åre on March 13.

As a result, Shiffrin now sits in third with 575 points. With such slim margins separating the Top 3 contenders, the Slalom Globe will be won at World Cup Finals in Lenzerheide on March 20.

While the Slalom Globe is not entirely out of Shiffrin’s reach, the odds of clinching it this season are slim. Shiffrin will need to win the final slalom in order to collect the 100 points awarded to World Cup race victors. But even a win in Lenzerheide does not guarantee Shiffrin the 2021 World Cup Slalom Title.

A victory and the corresponding 100 World Cup points brings Shiffrin’s point total to 675, only 63 points ahead of Vlhova’s current total. If Vlhova finishes second in the slalom finals, she will earn 80 points, bringing her season total to 692. Only if Shiffrin wins and Vlhova finishes third or lower will the American take home her seventh World Cup Slalom Crystal Globe.

So what will this World Cup Final bring for the women going head to head in slalom?

“The only thing you can really expect is an exciting show,” said Shiffrin. “I have no idea how it’s going to turn out. Kathi [Liensberger] and Petra [Vlhova] are both very strong … anything is possible at Finals, and I’m not totally out of the fight, which after [finishing third in the March 12 slalom] is a little bit of a surprise even, so we’ll see.”

Because Italy’s Marta Bassino has already locked in the World Cup Giant Slalom Title heading into the Finals in Lenzerheide, the Slalom Globe is the only one Shiffrin, who has won a Crystal Globe in every main discipline except downhill, is in contention for this season.

Related: GS World Championship Title Eludes Shiffrin By 0.02 Seconds

Having decided to focus exclusively on the technical disciplines this season after her long hiatus from racing and skiing, Shiffrin has no points and is out of the running for titles in both super-G and downhill. With no points in the speed disciplines, Shiffrin also can’t compete for the coveted World Cup Overall Title—a title she won in 2017, 2018, and 2019.

But even going into this season, Shiffrin didn’t expect to be able to go for the Overall Globe given the unprecedented season and the hardships she faced after the death of her father. In a November 19 interview before her first race of the 2021 World Cup season, Shiffrin said this season would not be about winning globes, but about making good turns again.

Related: Mikaela Shiffrin On Her Return to World Cup Racing 

“If I’ve learned nothing else over the last year, it’s that things don’t always go the way we want them to. We just have to be flexible and be happy for the races we do get to race. So as far as the Overall Globe goes, it’s quite a bit less in my thoughts than it has been in years past.”

World Cup Globes or not, it’s safe to say that Shiffrin has made more than a few good turns this season.