After finishing second to American Mikaela Shiffrin in the first five World Cup slaloms of the season, Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova finally made her breakthrough at today’s World Cup stop in Flachau, Austria. Competing under the lights and amid heavy snowfall, Shiffrin led the field by 0.27 seconds after the first run (with Vlhova sitting in third, 0.31 seconds back). But Vlhova attacked the course in the second run, going on to finish 0.15 seconds ahead of Shiffrin. Austria’s Katharina Liensberger placed third, marking the 21-year-old’s first-ever World Cup podium finish. (Anna Swenn Larsson of Sweden initially seemed to have claimed the final spot on the podium, but she was later disqualified for not correctly passing through one of the gates.)
The other American competing in Flachau, Paula Moltzan, finished 12th, marking her best-ever World Cup finish. Moltzan was in 27th place after the first run, but she skied the second-fastest time (behind only Vlhova) in the second run to catapult herself up the standings. Full results are here.
It has been nearly two years since a woman other than Vlhova or Shiffrin stood atop a women’s World Cup slalom podium. Sweden’s Frida Handotter won the Flachau slalom on January 10, 2017, but in the 17 World Cup slaloms since, Shiffrin has notched 13 victories, while Vlhova has won four.
Vlhova is one of the only athletes who has seriously challenged Shiffrin in recent years. The two athletes are close in age (Shiffrin is exactly three months older). At the start of the 2017-18 season, it seemed like a real slalom rivalry was developing after Vlhova outpaced Shiffrin by 0.10 seconds at the World Cup in Levi, Finland. But then Shiffrin finished ahead of Vlhova at the Killington World Cup. And then Shiffrin won again, and again, and again, all while Vlhova’s slalom results slowed.
Vlhova has been gaining on Shiffrin since the start of the current season and she even managed to outpace the American slalom star at the city event in Oslo earlier this month. But today’s win was even sweeter. “This is my best day ever.” Vlhova said in her post-race FIS interview. “Finally I beat Mikaela, but she’s also really strong and I have big respect [for her].”
A few minutes later, Shiffrin told the crowd of cheering fans, “It’s motivation for me so we’ll see you in Maribor,” a reference to the next slalom on the World Cup calendar, which is scheduled for February 2.
Shiffrin entered Flachau having won the last seven World Cup slaloms (a streak that in March 2018 in Ofterschwang, Germany). Today’s race offered her a chance to tie the women’s World Cup record for most consecutive slalom victories (eight), which was set by Switzerland’s Vreni Schneider in 1989 and equaled by Croatia’s Janica Kostelic in 2001, but her second-place finish means it will be at least another year before she another shot at that specific record.
In December, Shiffrin broke Austrian Marlies Schild’s record for most career World Cup slalom wins by a woman. Despite her second-place finish today, Shiffrin still has the opportunity to tie the overall record for most World Cup slalom wins (by a man or woman) before the end of the season. The current record (40) is held by Sweden’s Ingemar Stenmark, who competed in the 1970s and 80s. Shiffrin currently owns 37 career World Cup slalom wins, with three more races scheduled this season.