Something strange happened during Mikaela Shiffrin‘s second and final run of a World Cup slalom on Sunday.
Shiffrin was skiing with a two tenths of a second lead when, all of a sudden, a red gate she cleared popped off in Maribor, Slovenia. It bounced off one of her ski poles and landed between her skis in the middle of the course.
Shiffrin cleared the next two gates with that broken red gate ricocheting at her boots. She eventually skied over that gate and left it behind her. Somehow, she only fell .09 behind at the next split time.
Shiffrin had fewer than 20 seconds to regain her speed and the lead. She did just that, and won by .19 of a second over Swiss Wendy Holdener.
“I saw a lot of gates were breaking when I was watching the other girls,” Shiffrin said. “I thought that, probably, it would happen for me as well. And it did, but with everybody else it seemed the gate went out of the way. For me, it just kept, like, getting stuck on my skis and my boots. So it was a bit distracting, but I don’t think it cost too much. I was focused.”
With the win, Shiffrin notched an unprecedented feat.
Lindsey Vonn hasn’t done it. Neither has Ingemar Stenmark, Franz Klammer or Alberto Tomba.
Shiffrin became the first skier to win five World Cup races in the same discipline, any discipline, in four straight years. She also won a handful of slaloms in 2013-14, 2014-15 and 2015-16.
Remarkably, she doesn’t turn 22 years old for another two months.
In all, Shiffrin has raced 30 slaloms across the Olympics, world championships and World Cups the last four seasons. She has won 22 of them, including 14 of her last 15.
She bounced back Sunday from a stunning DNF in the previous slalom last Tuesday, which broke a personal 15-race winning streak in the discipline.
Shiffrin now owns 27 career World Cup victories, one more than Tina Maze and equal with Maria Höfl-Riesch, the retired skiers who were Vonn’s biggest rivals in their heyday.
She also increased her World Cup overall standings lead to 305 points over Swiss Lara Gut through 18 of a scheduled 37 races. However, more speed races than technical races remain this season. If Shiffrin and Gut repeat their average finishes per discipline the rest of the season, Shiffrin will win the overall title by about 25 points.
“One of my big goals that I want to accomplish is the overall,” said Shiffrin, who could become the third U.S. woman to take the biggest annual prize in ski racing (Tamara McKinney, Vonn). “And I don’t know if it happens this year, but eventually that will be a big goal. … Right now, my focus is more world championships, but, eventually it will be more overall, probably.”
Shiffrin will be favored in the next World Cup race, a night slalom in Flachau, Austria, on Tuesday.
Gut is expected to begin her ascent next weekend, with a downhill and combined in Zauchensee, Austria. Vonn and fellow U.S. Olympic champion Julia Mancuso, both coming back from major injuries, could make their season debuts there.
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