The women’s World Championship giant slalom on Thursday was the race everyone’s been waiting for. After an exciting season of American Mikaela Shiffrin and Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova duking it out over the top podium spot in this technical event, most expected the same show in Åre, Sweden. And the ladies delivered. Neither Shiffrin nor Vlhova were in the lead after the first run, but Vlhova fought hard to overcome mistakes on the course to win gold while Shiffrin pulled herself up from fourth to make it onto the podium and take home the bronze—her second medal of the 2019 World Championships and her sixth World Championships medal overall.
Women’s World Championship Giant Slalom
With several women on this season’s World Cup circuit who are exceptionally strong in this technical event, this World Championship GS race promised to be a nail-biter, and it absolutely was. Gusting winds and low visibility added extra challenge to the first run, with a few unlucky women pushing out of the start house into a strong headwind. The first seven starters out of the gate were also the top contenders for this race, beginning with Norway’s Raghnhild Mowinckel.
Shiffrin, the 2017 World Championship silver medalist in GS and the 2018 Olympic Champion in this event, was the second racer down the icy track. While Shiffrin was slightly ahead of Mowinckel’s time at the first two splits, it was clear she was skiing conservatively, and she lost her lead by the third marker, finishing 0.07 seconds behind Mowinckel.
Germany’s Viktoria Rebensburg, the winner of the 2018 World Cup Crystal Globe in this event, skied next and justified her top ranking in GS with a fast, clean run that put her in the leader’s box.
Vlhova, wearing bib 4, crossed the finish line in second behind Rebensburg despite making a couple of errors throughout her run that almost caused her to miss two turns. As Vlhova slid into second after the first run, she pushed Shiffrin off the podium standings into fourth place behind Mowinckel—not an ideal position to guarantee a final podium finish. Still, only 0.44 seconds separated Shiffrin from Rebensburg in first place.
“In my first run, my skiing was too safe,” Shiffrin said after the race. “And I wasn’t really happy with that. So I was thinking ‘maybe anything is possible in the second run, so I just have to try my best and see what’s possible. Maybe I could still get a medal.’”
With that mission in mind, Shiffrin skied a much more aggressive line the second time down the course and crossed the finish 0.49 seconds ahead of Italy’s Federica Brignone, who up until then sat in the leader’s box. When Shiffrin saw her time in the finish area, she held her hands up to her face, visibly hoping that with only three more racers to come, her lead would be enough to secure a podium finish.
When Mowinckel, ahead of Shiffrin by just 0.07 seconds after the first run, crossed the finish 0.12 seconds behind Shiffrin, the American was guaranteed her second podium finish of these World Championships.
Vlhova, who fought hard in the first run to overcome errors, fought even harder in her second run. Despite hooking an arm through a gate midway down the course and momentarily losing balance, Vlhova still crossed the finish 0.38 seconds ahead of Shiffrin.
Though Rebensburg skied a clean and fast second run, she finished just 0.14 seconds behind Vlhova’s combined time, moving into second and pushing Shiffrin down to third overall.
With this win, Vlhova became the first Slovakian racer—male or female—to win gold in a World Championship event.
“I didn’t expect that I would cross the finish line [in first place],” Vlhova said after the second run. “I was surprised because I felt that I made a few mistakes, and I started thinking, this isn’t good. [But] I arrived in the finish and I was first, so I was really happy…finally I can show everyone who Petra Vlhova from Slovakia is.”
Though Shiffrin has become accustomed to winning, she admitted she was happy to just make it onto the podium of this race.
“I’m pretty happy tonight,” Shiffrin said. “[After the first run] I was thinking maybe I could get on the podium but I could also move back, so I really tried to fight, and the second run was better. I had a small mistake…but [the second run] was more deserving of the podium, so I’m really happy with that. Coming away tonight with a bronze medal after the gold in super-G is very much a dream come true.”
American Nina O’Brien (San Francisco, Calif.), starting in her first World Championships event, finished in 28 place. See full results here.
Men’s World Championship Giant Slalom
Conditions could not have been more different—and more favorable—for the men on Friday, who launched out of the start house under bluebird skies, great visibility, and no wind. Austrian Marcel Hirscher, the current World Cup leader in giant slalom and the 2017 World Champion in GS and slalom, was favored to win Friday’s GS, though a handful of other racers, including Norwegian Henrik Kristoffersen, France’s Alexis Pinturault, Italy’s Dominik Paris, and Loic Meillard of Switzerland were sure to put up a fight.
After an exciting first run, it was Kristoffersen who moved up from third place into first overall to win gold, with Hirscher finishing in second and Pinturault moving down from first place into third.
Coming up in Åre...
Shiffrin will look to win her fourth consecutive World Championship slalom title in Saturday's slalom event, though Vlhova is sure to give her a run for her money. The men will next face off in Sunday's slalom race, the final event of the 2019 World Skiing Championships.