Rain, warm temperatures, and soft snow were not enough to keep Mikaela Shiffrin from continuing on her record-breaking path this season. After a week off from racing, Shiffrin returned to the start house in Maribor, Slovenia on Friday, Feb. 1 in hopes of clinching her first giant slalom podium finish in Maribor, and her 12th World Cup win this season. She had to fight for it, but Shiffrin did land the top spot on the GS podium—though she had to share it with rival Petra Vlhova from Slovakia.
On Saturday, Shiffrin defended her title as reigning Maribor World Cup slalom champion by beating Vlhova, winner of the last two World Cup slalom races, and securing her 56th career World Cup win—ranking her fifth on the all-time World Cup win record list behind Ingemar Stenmark, Lindsey Vonn, Marcel Hirscher, and Annemarie Moser-Proll. Thanks to back-to-back wins, Shiffrin was also awarded the Maribor Golden Fox trophy, an award that goes to the racer with the best combined time over the weekend’s two technical events (GS and slalom).
Maribor Women’s Giant Slalom
If the Maribor giant slalom race on Feb. 1 is any indication of what’s to come, the women’s World Championship GS event in Åre, Sweden on Feb. 14 is going to be a highlight.
This season the GS field of competitors has proven to be exceptionally strong, with a number of women consistently skiing around the podium. While Shiffrin is the current World Cup leader in the discipline, Vlhova, France’s Tessa Worley, Italy’s Federica Brignone, Norway’s Ragnhild Mowinckel, and Switzerland’s Wendy Holdener have all been serious contenders throughout the season. It therefore comes as no surprise that Shiffrin had to fight hard to clinch her third GS victory of the season.
Shiffrin, starting with bib number 4, skied a solid first run despite soft snow and low visibility, finishing 0.48 seconds ahead of Vlhova and 0.58 seconds ahead of Worley. But Vlhova, starting just before Shiffrin in the second run, skied aggressively and managed to close the lead that Shiffrin had on her from the first run.
While Shiffrin skied a mostly fluid second run, she flubbed a turn just before the finish line, which cost her the marginal lead she still had on Vlhova by the final split. She crossed the finish line neck-and-neck with Vlhova, tying for the fastest overall time of 2:31.31.
“Of course, we all want to win and we don’t want to share that,” Shiffrin said after the race. “But sometimes it’s nice to be in a sport where there can be more than one winner. There are some races, there are some days, when more than one person deserves the top spot to win, and it doesn’t always happen that way. And today it happened like that.”
Worley, in third after the first run, also made a costly error in her second run which moved her down to ninth overall. Mowinckel, who sat in sixth place after the first run, skied a phenomenal second run that moved her up to third to round out the podium behind joint-winners Shiffrin and Vlhova. See full results here.
Maribor Women’s Slalom
Warm, wet weather and soft snow conditions persisted for the slalom race on Feb. 2, which meant that the women who skied with a light touch on the edges had a significant advantage over racers who ski with heavy edge sets throughout their turns.
Shiffrin, who is perhaps the best technical skier of all time, is known for her near-perfect turns that showcase consistent edge pressure throughout each turn. This technique allows Shiffrin to let her skis run smoothly from edge to edge and build momentum along the way. This is what differentiated Shiffrin from the rest of the field in the Maribor slalom, and how she won the race.
Starting with bib 4 in the first run, Shiffrin skied a technically clean run that put her one whole second ahead of Vlhova, her fiercest rival in slalom. Vlhova finished her first run in second place while Sweden’s Anna Swenn Larsson, who was stripped of her podium-finish in the last slalom event in Flachau, Austria after being disqualified for straddling a gate, slid into third behind Vlhova.
In the second run, Swenn Larsson skied another fast run, crossing the finish 0.37 seconds ahead of Switzerland’s Wendy Holdener, who moved up from sixth place to take the leader’s chair in the second run. With only two more racers to come—Vlhova and Shiffrin—Swenn Larsson was guaranteed her first official World Cup podium of the season, and only the second in her career.
Vlhova, starting after Swenn Larsson, made a similar mistake to Shiffrin in the previous day’s GS race: she briefly got caught in a rut line at the top of the course, which only momentarily through her off balance but cost her significant time and ultimately the podium, moving from second down to fifth place overall.
Shiffrin, on the other hand, did not repeat her error from the previous day, and skied a strong, smart second run free of obvious mistakes. She finished 0.77 seconds ahead of Swenn Larsson to claim her second win of the weekend and her 56th career World Cup victory. See full results from Saturday's slalom here.
After having to share the GS podium, Shiffrin was glad to have the top spot to herself again.
“The first run was a pretty big fight for a lot of reasons,” Shiffrin told U.S. Ski and Snowboard. “There’s just so many things that were happening after yesterday and today so it was a bit more difficult to be focused. I was feeling quite uncertain if I could ski fast enough.”
Friday’s tie for first with Vlhova was only one of the distractions Shiffrin was referring to. The other was the major announcement from teammate Lindsey Vonn, who told the world on Friday that she would be retiring following the World Championships in Åre, Sweden.
Soon after Vonn’s announcement was made public, Shiffrin was asked to comment on the news.
“What she’s done for the sport is incredible,” said Shiffrin, who at 23 years-old, is on track to match 34 year-old Vonn’s World Cup victory record. “I would never try to carry that torch.”
Shiffrin has said many times that while the media and her fans like to focus on her own World Cup win tally, she herself doesn’t.
“The numbers dehumanize what we’re all doing,” she told U.S. Ski and Snowboard. “Every race is a fight. There’s always a new goal to keep doing better…The numbers are amazing, but summing it all up to a number—it’s not possible for me…It’s not about winning. It’s about making my best turns.”
And Shiffrin will continue to focus on making her best turns going into the World Championships which take place in Åre, Sweden from Feb. 4-17. Shiffrin’s week kicks off with the super-G race on Tuesday, Feb. 5, in which she will race Vonn in what will be one of two final races of Vonn’s career.
See the full World Championship schedule here.