The first women’s slalom race of 2020 was one for the books as crowds and viewers were treated to an epic battle between Mikaela Shiffrin and her main rival in the slalom discipline, Petra Vlhova from Slovakia.
Shiffrin, the current World Cup points leader in slalom and four-time winner of the Zagreb, Croatia slalom, launched herself out of the start house on Saturday looking to defend her title as Zagreb’s Snow Queen against Vlhova. The Slovakian racer, however, refused to settle for second behind Shiffrin. While she struggled to find her footing at the start of this World Cup season, Vlhova finally skied two fast, clean runs to take the win by a resounding 1.31 seconds ahead of Shiffrin. Austria’s Katharina Liensberger finished in third to secure her first career World Cup slalom podium.
View full results from Zagreb’s women’s World Cup slalom here.
Shiffrin, who made a serious mistake in the top section of the course during her first run that cost her 1.16 seconds, refused to go down without a fight in the second run. Skiing with nothing to lose, Shiffrin launched herself out of the start gate with a 0.84 second advantage over Switzerland’s Wendy Holdener, in third place after the first run. The Zagreb crowds went wild at every split as Shiffrin continued to build more speed. By the third split, Shiffrin had gained a 1.77-second advantage and crossed the finish line 2.18 seconds ahead of Austria’s Katharina Liensberger, who until then sat in the leader’s box. But in the end, even that significant margin wasn’t enough to beat Vlhova’s two perfect runs that put her 1.31 seconds ahead of Shiffrin.
As Shiffrin is the most successful slalom racer in the history of the sport, her fans have become accustomed to her winning each World Cup slalom event. For almost a year, she delivered with 22 top-two finishes in the last 23 women’s World Cup slalom races. But on Saturday, Shiffrin reminded her fans that her wins, even in slalom, are never a given.
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“I’m never going to race expecting that I’m going to win—especially when I have competitors like Petra,” Shiffrin told U.S. Ski and Snowboard. “I’ve said from the beginning that if [Petra] is really on, I have to be skiing my best, prefect, fastest skiing in order to stay ahead of her. Today I was as strong as I could be—especially in the second run—but it wasn’t strong enough. I could see the difference.”
While Vlhova put an end to Shiffrin’s reign as Zagreb’s Snow Queen, Shiffrin still leads the World Cup slalom rankings (by 120 points) as well as the overall rankings (by 313 points) over Vlhova.
From Zagreb, the women’s World Cup circuit moves on to Altenmarkt-Zauchensee, Austria, for the next speed events of the Tour on Jan. 11-12.