American Mikaela Shiffrin made history yet again in Saturday’s World Championship slalom. Despite suffering from a chest infection that left her short of breath while skiing, Shiffrin dug deep after her first run that landed her in third place to ski her way to the top of the podium and clinch her third medal of the 2019 World Championships, and her fourth consecutive World Championships slalom title. Shiffrin became the first racer in history—male or female—to defend a World Championship title in four successive World Championships.
Women’s World Championship Slalom
The women competing in the final event of the 2019 World Championships in Åre, Sweden had to contend with less than ideal conditions for their first slalom run. Austria’s Katharina Liensberger was the first to launch out of the start gate amidst snow showers and wet, soft snow, followed immediately by Shiffrin—the three-time-defending Slalom World Champion (2013, 2015, 2017).
Shiffrin, skiing cleanly but somewhat conservatively, trailed Liensberger by 0.30 seconds for most of the course, but in true Shiffrin-style was able to find time in the last few gates to cross the finish 0.16 seconds ahead. But Shiffrin’s lead didn’t last long. Next up was Wendy Holdener of Switzerland, ranked third in World Cup slalom this season. Holdener skied determinedly and aggressively and beat Shiffrin’s first run time by 0.15 seconds. Then crowd-favorite Anna Swenn Larsson of Sweden, starting with bib 4, skied a phenomenal first run and finished 0.11 seconds behind Holdener, slotting into second ahead of Shiffrin.
Shiffrin’s fiercest rival, Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova, struggled in her first run and finished 0.46 seconds behind Holdener’s leading time, landing her in fifth place after the first run.
After a season of seeing either Shiffrin or Vlhova in the lead after a slalom first run, it was surprising to find neither of them in that spot on Saturday, and it was clear that both would need to ski one of the best slaloms of their lives if they hoped to take home gold after the second run.
Vlohva did just that. Skiing a high, direct line, Vlhova finished her second run with a 1.36 second lead of Sweden’s Frida Hansdotter. That huge margin left plenty of room for Vlhova to hope for a medal.
Sure enough Liensberger, ranked fourth after the first run, wasn’t able to come close to Vlhova’s time, and Vlhova climbed one spot closer to the podium.
Then it was Shiffrin’s turn. Shiffrin, skiing more aggressively than in her first run, passed the third split with a massive 1.18 second lead and ultimately crossed the finish 1.03 seconds ahead of Vhova’s fast time. With Swenn Larsson and Holdener still to come, Vlhova’s hopes of gold were dashed, and she was now facing the fact that she may not even make it onto the podium of her best event. Now it was Shiffrin’s turn to hope that her huge lead would be enough to catapult her from third to first over Swenn Larsson and Holdener.
Swenn Larsson, spurred on by the cheers of her home crowd, skied another fantastic run, but finished 0.58 seconds behind Shiffrin’s time, slotting her into second overall with only Holdener left to come down the course. Despite losing her lead over Shiffrin, Swenn Larsson was ecstatic when she saw her time in the finish area, knowing she had just won her first World Championship medal in front of a home crowd.
Finally, it was Holdener’s turn, and things went south for her in the top section of the course. Holdener lost control at one of top gates after the first flush in the course, skiing past her next gate and having to stop completely and hike back up to the missed gate before continuing. In a heartbreaking turn of events, Holdener crossed the finish line in 17th place. American Paula Moltzan (Prior Lake, Minn.) finished just behind Holdener in 18th place. See full results here.
Meanwhile, in the finish area, an emotional Shiffrin was congratulated on her fourth consecutive World Championship slalom title by Vlhova, who thanks to Holdener’s error was guaranteed the bronze medal.
“I feel very lucky today,” Shiffrin said after the race. “Today was something else. It’s been a lot going on this World Championships, especially since the super-G win. I certainly had a lot of doubts today. My team has been spectacular this whole [World Championships], just getting me to toughen up and do the job.”
Shiffrin told media after the race that due to her chest cold she struggled for air during Saturday’s races. “My whole team was around me all day and helping to make sure I was drinking…resting…and not wasting energy,” she told U.S. Ski and Snowboard.
“I knew I had to fight really hard the second run because Anna and Wendy are too strong, and the girls who were behind me were also really close,” Shiffrin added.
Men’s World Championship Slalom
Like Mikaela Shiffrin, Austrian Marcel Hirscher had a World Champion slalom title to defend, and like Shiffrin, he overcame illness to successfully clinch his second successive World Championship slalom gold.
Skiing near perfect runs in flat light conditions, Hirscher crossed the finish more than half a second ahead of Austrian teammates Michael Matt and Marco Schwarz, who rounded out the podium in second and third for an Austrian sweep of the final 2019 World Championship event.
France’s Alexis Pinturault, who won giant slalom bronze in Åre, finished in fourth. No Americans started in Sunday’s slalom event. See full results here.