Those who thought Mikaela Shiffrin may succumb to pressure and expectations as she attempts to one-up her record-breaking 2018-19 World Cup season needn’t worry: Shiffrin is back to her winning ways and adding new records to her name to boot.
After winning Saturday’s slalom race in Levi, Finland by an incredible 1.78 second margin over Switzerland’s Wendy Holdener, Shiffrin not only secured her fourth victory at the Levi venue, but her 41st career slalom win, making the 24-year-old the most successful slalom racer in World Cup history.
“It was nice today because no one was asking me about the records. Before the run I wasn’t thinking about it at all, I was just thinking about my skiing,” Shiffrin said after the race. Her primary concern, as always, was to demonstrate her very best skiing. And that’s exactly what she did.
Women's World Cup Slalom—Levi, Finland
Starting out of the gate as the first racer on Nov. 23, Shiffrin battled through foggy conditions to lay down a solid first run on Levi’s technical slalom course that featured tricky rollers throughout. No one came within a second of Shiffrin’s first run time until her main rival, Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova, crossed the finish just 0.13 seconds in the lead. Motivated by that close margin, Shiffrin skied what could only be called a perfect second run, finishing 1.78 seconds ahead of Holdener and 1.94 seconds ahead of Austria’s Katharina Truppe. Vlhova, last out of the gate, came storming down the run but hooked an edge and crashed out of the top section of the course. Vlhova’s DNF cemented Shiffrin’s victory and a first career podium for Truppe.
See full results of women's Levi Slalom event here.
“I was thinking of the second run as a different race,” Shiffrin told U.S. Ski and Snowboard. “I had to go for it. Ski fast and ski well, and that’s what I was thinking about in the second run.”
Despite skiing two exceptional runs, Shiffrin partially attributes her win to Vlhova’s crash. “I have a lot of respect for Petra and for her team—the way that they’re working. I know she had a really tough start with sickness at the beginning of the season. I’m very impressed with how she was able to do the first run today, and the second run as well, she was pushing really hard. The terrain was a little tricky. I was maybe a little lucky with my win today, but I was skiing really well, so I’m happy with it. It’s going to be a really good fight. She’s going to get stronger and stronger.”
American Paula Moltzan also had a successful start in Levi, finishing in 20th to score her first World Cup points of the season. Teammate Nina O’Brien did not qualify for a second run.
As is customary at the Levi World Cup event, Shiffrin was awarded a live reindeer at the prize ceremony—a fourth to join the reindeer Shiffrin won in 2013 (Rudolph), 2016 (Sven), and 2018 (Mr. Gru). Unsure, at first, what she should name the newest addition to her herd, Shiffrin finally landed on Ingemar—a nod to Swedish ski racer Ingemar Stenmark who held the record for most World Cup slalom victories until Shiffrin bested that with her win on Saturday (Stenmark still holds the record for most World Cup wins—86—across all disciplines).
Saturday’s race was not only a huge success for Shiffrin because it amounted to another win and record, but because it laid a solid foundation for the season to come. Shiffrin, who has struggled with nerves and the pressure to live up to expectations in the past, demonstrated with Saturday’s race that she has found a balance between being hyper-focused and more relaxed, enabling her to do her very best skiing.
“Before both runs I was a little nervous, but I was also thinking that it doesn’t help to be nervous, to just enjoy it and have fun. There’s a balance in going last between laughing and joking around in the start and being focused. Normally I’m worried about getting too distracted and so I focus really hard, but that’s also not good. So, I’m trying to find a balance. I feel good with both [slalom and GS] event, and now we’re rolling. It’s a nice place to be.”
The ladies’ World Cup circuit next moves to Killington, Vt., where the women will compete in the second giant slalom and slalom events of the season on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1.