Mikaela Shiffrin will head to the Sochi Olympics wondering what might have been.
The 18-year-old American phenom had a fourth World Cup slalom victory and an outside chance at wrapping up the season title within reach but after leading the first run, she was thrown off early in the second run and slipped down to seventh place Sunday in Kranjska Gora, Slovenia.
The Golden Fox race was won by Sweden’s Frida Hansdotter, who after eight career runner-up finishes earned her first triumph on the World Cup circuit. Austrian sisters Marlies Schild and Bernadette Schild finished second and third, respectively.
“This is for sure a dream come true,” Hansdotter said after the race. “It’s amazing to ski well, especially when it is hard and difficult conditions like we had today. I usually don’t ski well when the snow is soft like this so I am very satisfied with my run. I think the key was just to go for it and ski clean.”
Shiffrin had an opportunity to lock up her second straight World Cup globe in the slalom, becoming the first American to do so, by extending her 144-point lead coming into the race to more than 200 points with just two World Cup slalom races to contest after the Olympics. A victory coupled with Hansdotter finishing sixth or below and Schild fourth or below would have done the trick.
But it wasn’t meant to be.
With Hansdotter and Schild watching from the finish area, Shiffrin exploded out of the gate. Not long thereafter, her ski caught a hole in the deteriorated course and nearly knocked her over. She managed to save the run, but the awkward recovery cost her almost all of her speed. Another mistake in the middle of the section prevented her from making up time.
With two days of persistent snow and rain softening the course and making for poor course conditions, Shiffrin had taken advantage of her early bib draw (she started third) to open up a 0.31 second lead over Hansdotter in the first run. She made just one mistake on the steep in the middle section but recovered to keep the green light on her way to the finish.
“It was not great conditions but it was better conditions for me than for the girls coming down later,” Shiffrin said.
World Cup overall leader Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany, who finished 23rd, questioned the decision to start this race in the first place but said it was inevitable given the tight calendar post-Sochi.
“I saw already at inspection this morning that the course is very bad,” Hoefl-Riesch, the 2010 Olympic slalom champion, told AP after the first run. “We knew they would push through this race today at all costs, which is questionable for me so shortly before the Olympics. The snow broke and with my start No. 7 there were already some big holes.”
Reigning World Cup overall champion Tina Maze, who has struggled all season, was hoping to use a strong performance at home as a positive springboard to Sochi but was disqualified for straddling a gate in the second run.
The women’s slalom is scheduled for Feb. 21 in Sochi. Following the Olympics, the final World Cup slaloms will be contested in Are, Sweden on March 8 and in Lenzerheide, Switzerland on March 15.
Kranjska Gora Women’s Slalom
1. Frida Hansdotter (SWE) 1:50.17
2. Marlies Schild (AUT) 1:50.22
3. Bernadette Schild (AUT) 1:50.32
4. Nastasia Noens (FRA) 1:50.41
5. Maria Pietilae-Holmner (SWE) 1:50.46
6. Anna Swenn-Larsson (SWE) 1:50.80
7. Mikaela Shiffrin (USA) 1:50.89
8. Chiara Costazza (ITA) 1:50.93
T9. Wendy Holdener (SUI) 1:50.97
T9. Sarka Strachova (CZE) 1:50.97