Tuesday’s night slalom in Flachau, Austria, annually one of the most anticipated events on the women’s World Cup circuit, once again lived up to its hype. In another showdown between American Mikaela Shiffrin and fierce slalom rival Petra Vlhova from Slovakia, Vlhova came out on top to win her second consecutive Flachau slalom. Shiffrin, who won in Flachau a record three times, settled in third place, 0.43 seconds off Vlhova’s winning time and 0.33 seconds behind Sweden’s Anna Swenn Larsson.
Each year the Flachau slalom challenges the top technical racers on the World Cup circuit, not because it’s a particularly technical course, but because the short course tapers into a very flat finish, requiring racers to carry as much speed as possible throughout the course. The flat finish also magnifies mistakes made in the top, steeper sections of the course, giving racers little chance to make up lost time in the lower section.
While Shiffrin skied a strong first run that put her in second, 0.60 seconds off Vlhova’s first run time, she made a number of mistakes in the middle section of her second run that ended up costing her dearly.
Vlhova, in contrast, skied two very strong runs, allowing her skis to ride the ruts around the gates rather than slamming on her edges. The extra speed she built throughout the course because of this was enough to secure the fastest overall time.
“When you look at Petra, she’s skiing just perfect right now,” Shiffrin told U.S. Ski and Snowboard. “Even if she makes some mistakes, her mistakes are smaller than everyone else and her better turns are better than everyone else. That includes me.”
Similarly, Swenn Larsson skied the slalom of her life in the second run to post the fastest second run time and move up from fifth to second place overall, just 0.10 seconds behind Vlhova. The surprise-second place finish marked sweet redemption for the Swede, who at last season’s Flachau slalom thought she had landed her first ever World Cup slalom podium, only to learn right after the race that she was disqualified for straddling a gate in the course.
After Altenmarkt’s Alpine Combined event, which included a super-G course set by one of the Italian coaches that led to 16 racers posting a DNF and two Italians landing on the podium, course setting has been a topic of discussion and some controversy on the women’s circuit, with some whispering that coaches are setting courses to benefit their own skiers and challenge their rivals.
Interestingly, Flachau’s first slalom course was set by Swedish coach Christian Thoma, yet Swenn Larsson struggled with that first run; the second course was set by American coach Mike Day, and it was that run that tested Shiffrin. After the race, Shiffrin actively dispelled rumors that coaches were setting courses to benefit or hurt certain racers.
“I think everybody was thinking that [Mike Day] would set a course against Petra,” Shiffrin told the press after the race. “I wanted to be clear about this … We don’t do that. We don’t play those games, I think it’s bad karma.”
“This victory was really important for me because it confirms that I’m skiing well,” Vlhova said after the win. “I feel great, I have confidence with my skiing. It’s amazing to win here again in Flachau, with all my fans here from Slovakia. I’m so, so happy.”
Americans Paula Moltzan and Nina O’Brien also had cause to celebrate: Both finished in the top-30 (23 and 29) and scored World Cup points.
See full Flachau results here.
After Flachau, Shiffrin still leads the overall World Cup standings by 273 points over Vlhova and maintains a 60 point lead over Vlhova in slalom. The women’s World Cup circuit now moves to Sestriere, Italy for the next giant slalom and first parallel GS of the season on Jan. 18-19.