For the second consecutive Audi FIS World Cup race, Mikaela Shiffrin drew start number 1 and was the first racer down the course. Conditions in Killington, Vt. were windy, but the snow on Killington’s Superstar giant slalom course couldn’t have been better—"hero snow,” the ladies racing in Saturday’s World Cup GS called it.
Shiffrin laid down a technically clean first run to the deafening cheers of 18,500 fans assembled in the finish area of Killington’s World Cup course. But it wasn’t quite enough. Despite no obvious mistakes on the course, Shiffrin found herself in sixth after Run 1, .67 seconds off leader Ragnhild Mowinckel of Norway, the Olympic giant slalom silver medalist.
For the most part, the usual suspects filled in the gap between Mowinckel and Shiffrin after Run 1: Italy’s Federica Brignone, who placed second in the first GS event of the season in Sölden, Austria, posted the second fastest time behind Mowinckel; Tessa Worley of France, who ranked second overall in the world in GS last season, landed in fourth; and Austria’s Viktoria Rebensburg, winner of last year’s Killington GS, finished in fifth, .14 secons ahead of Shiffrin.
There’s was one surprise in the top three after Run 1: Stephanie Brunner of Austria, ranked sixth overall in the world in GS last season and who had yet to podium in a World Cup race, posted the third fastest time, .44 seconds off Mowinckel.
With the top six finishers all within .7 seconds of Mowinckel, the second run promised to very exciting indeed. And the ladies didn’t disappoint.
Everyone’s strategy seemed to be to take full advantage of the superb snow conditions and having successfully navigated down the very turney course in Run 1 to ski more aggressively the second time around. That was especially true for Shiffrin, who despite being pleased with her first run, knew she needed to dial it up a few notches if she hoped to make the podium.
The queen of clean lines and technique again skied seemingly flawlessly, taking high lines above the gates and letting her skis run. But again, it wasn’t enough. Brignone, despite a bad turn that had her balancing precariously on her inside ski at one of the last turns of the course, skied a superbly fluid second run. She finished with the second fastest time in Run 2 and secured the fastest overall time, putting her at the top of the podium.
With everyone skiing well on Killington’s course, the rankings from Run 1 barely shifted by the end of Run 2. Shiffrin was able to overtake Worley to move up one spot and into fourth. Mowinkel, in first after Run 1, moved down to second, with Brunner skiing another solid second run to finish third, her first ever podium finish in a World Cup race.
Though we’re accustomed to Shiffrin finishing on the podium in all of her races, it’s worth remembering that giant slalom is not Shiffrin’s best event. Shiffrin is first and foremost a slalom skier, so talented in that technical race that the rest of the World Cup field usually has difficulty coming within .5 seconds of her (a huge margin in ski racing). But in recent seasons Shiffrin has begun to wow us with her prowess outside of slalom, going so far as to podium in World Cup downhill races and win gold in GS at the Pyeongchang Olympics. So winning GS and speed events is certainly in Shiffrin’s wheel house, but in these events she definitely faces a field of serious contenders—something Shiffrin seems to be more aware of, and accepting of, this season.
“Watching some of the other girls come down after I went, they were skiing like they wanted it, and I want it too, but I was enjoying it too much,” Shiffrin said.
Over the course of her professional racing career the world has come to know Shiffrin as a focused, serious competitor who comes down harshly on herself when she does not meet her own expectations. Yet this season, Shiffrin seems to have a more forgiving—if not relaxed—approach to her success. Instead of beating herself up, Shiffrin appears to be putting into focus the positives of each of her races and taking the time to stop and smell the roses—or in the case of this Killington race, to stop and listen to cheering of the huge crowd of East Coaster who turned out to watch her race.
“It is soooo cool to race for you guys, we can here you coming over that final pitch and the atmosphere you create is incredible!” she posted on Instagram.
And with her best event still ahead of her, Shiffrin has every reason to be positive. Shiffrin is the favorite to win Sunday’s slalom event, having won the race for the past two years and just coming off a win in the season-opening World Cup slalom in Levi, Finland.
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