Just three days after their last slalom contest in Zagreb, Croatia, the women on the World Cup circuit again launched themselves out of the start gate and down the slalom course in Flachau, Austria, this time amidst dumping snow.
Mikaela Shiffrin, fresh off her big victory in Zagreb in which she secured her seventh successive slalom win over her fierce competitor Petra Vlhova of Slovakia, looked to repeat that same outcome in Flachau. Though Shiffrin fought to keep her winning streak alive until the finish line of the second run, it wasn’t enough to keep Vlhova at bay. After five second place finishes behind Shiffrin in slalom this season, Vlhova finally moved to the top of the podium in Flachau, with Shiffrin falling to second and Austria’s own Katharina Liensberger moving into third place.
Just like in the Zagreb slalom, Vlhova finished the first run in Flachau in third place, 0.31 behind Shiffrin who posted the fastest first run time. Sweden’s Anna Swenn Larsson, who’s been moving up the ranks in slalom in recent races, finished her first run with the second fastest time—her best result after a first slalom run in her career. Liensberger, who raced with bib number one, was in fourth.
Vlhova went into her second run with nothing to lose, skiing aggressively in hopes of catching Shiffrin. While Vlhova’s second run looked fast and smooth down the first half of the course and she kept shaving off time by each split, it wasn’t until the final third of the course when Vlhova really turned on the afterburner and crossed the finish line with a huge 1.17 second advantage over Liensberger, the current leader. With only two more racers to come down the course—Swenn Larsson and Shiffrin—Vlhova could only hope that that margin would be enough to catapult her ahead of Shiffrin, who would start her second run with a 0.31 advantage over Vlhova.
The start of Shiffrin’s second run looked promising as she passed the second split time still narrowly ahead of Vlhova. But after that split Shiffrin made an uncharacteristic error—a late turn and upper body rotation that cast her off balance for only a fraction of a second, but led her to fall behind Vlhova’s time by the next split. In the end, she wasn’t able to recoup that time and crossed the finish line only 0.15 seconds behind Vlhova’s astonishing second run time.
“It’s a bit mixed emotions,” Shiffrin told U.S. Ski and Snowboard. “Yeah fifteen-hundredths is so small, and there is some disappointment, but I’ve also been ahead of Petra by that same margin. I knew I can’t win every race… I know the second run [Petra] was going to go like crazy, she wasn’t far behind, and I had to be really aggressive and I had some spots—a few mistakes here and there—and that cost some time. But anyway, it was a big fight and she is doing a really great job, so I have to say congrats.”
Swenn Larsson, who crossed the finish line of the second run in third overall, was disqualified following the announcement of the unofficial results after race officials discovered that she had inadvertently straddled a gate during her second run. Liensberger, who finished her second run 1.17 seconds behind Vlhova and was listed as fourth overall in the unofficial results, moved up to third following Swenn Larsson’s disqualification.
American Paula Moltzan (Burlington, Vt.), who has struggled to complete both runs in the slalom races following her career-best 15 place finish in Courchevel this season, was able to move up from 27 place after her first run to 12 place overall after putting down an absolutely amazing second run—the fastest second run, in fact, behind Vlhova’s.
View the full results of the women's World Cup slalom in Flachau here.
Coming Up on the women's World Cup...
This World Cup race block has been a grueling one for the women skiing the technical events on the circuit, with seven races packed into the past 18 days, and now these ladies will finally get a short break before the next GS race in Kronplatz, Italy on January 15.
Shiffrin, who has been competing in some of the speed events as well as the technical ones this season, will have to decide which of the remaining World Cup races she will start in. She currently holds the overall World Cup lead ahead of Vlhova by 446 points, but in the slalom category, she’s only 80 points ahead of the Slovakian. Shiffrin is currently also ranked number 1 in Super G. This means Shiffrin will need to strategize how best to ensure her various leads for the remainder of the season.
“I have to make some decisions about what the schedule is going to be for the next couple of weeks, and also going into the World Championships, and to know that [Vlhova] is so strong in slalom, so strong in giant slalom, and not really doing speed,” Shiffrin told U.S. Ski and Snowboard. “I have to decide what is more important. Do I want to be able to do speed, slalom, GS? Or do I want to be relaly strong in slalom and GS, and how does that fit into the program leading into World Championships…How can I train? How [can I] manage the energy? And for sure, how can I manage the motivation?”
While Shiffrin contemplates this during her short break before her next event in Kronplatz, Lindsey Vonn will also have some extra time to contemplate her next races. The St. Anton downhill and Super G races scheduled to take place January 10-13, where Vonn was hoping to make her season debut after being sidelined by a training injury sustained in October, have been cancelled due to heavy snowfall in the region.
Vonn will now have to wait until the downhill and Super G races in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy on January 17-20 to return to racing. The cancelled races in St. Anton mean Vonn now has fewer opportunities to catch up to Stenmark’s World Cup victory record, a goal she has set for herself during her final season of racing before going into retirement.