Immediately after Mikaela Shiffrin crossed the finish line in snowy Flachau, Austria, on Tuesday night, a scoreboard indicated her first slalom victory in more than a year. Shiffrin pumped her arms and screamed, a rare level of celebration reserved for some of her most significant wins.
“Some days I wake up, and the first thing I want to do is scream so loud that everybody in the world could hear,” a reflective Shiffrin said later. “I’m trying to put that energy into the skiing because I don’t know where else to put it.
“Tonight, it was like I was able to release some of this feeling that just feels like this dark, terrible thing inside of my soul. … Every time I’m racing and figuring things out again, I’m letting some of that go.”
Shiffrin, after her slalom dominance was wrested away in 2020, notched her first victory in her trademark discipline since Dec. 29, 2019.
She prevailed by .19 of a second over Austrian Katharina Liensberger under the lights in Flachau, Austria. Swiss Wendy Holdener was third, followed by Slovakian Petra Vlhova, the top slalom skier last year.
Shiffrin had the fastest first run and was the last skier out in the second run as the snow fell, holding a .33 lead over Liensberger that was halved about midway through the run.
“The second run, that was maybe top slalom skiing I’ve been able to do in a race,” Shiffrin, who went 300 days between races following the Feb. 2 death of her father, said on ORF. “Takes a different mentality. I’m learning that again this whole season.”
It marked Shiffrin’s 68th World Cup win, breaking a tie with Austrian Marcel Hirscher for third on the career list behind Swede Ingemar Stenmark (86) and Lindsey Vonn (82). It was Shiffrin’s 100th World Cup podium. Shiffrin also broke her tie for the most wins in one discipline by a woman with Vonn (downhill).
It was the last slalom before Shiffrin goes for a fifth straight world title in the event next month.
And it brought a feeling of being alive that she had not felt in competition in about two years. Afterward, she captioned social media posts with one word: Unleashed.
“One of those races you wish it would never end,” she said. “I love feeling that. It’s probably one of the first feelings I’ve had in a long time that I actually want to keep.”
Going into Tuesday, the American had been defeated in the previous six slaloms, with Vlhova winning a handful. That was double the length of Shiffrin’s previous longest span between wins dating to the first of her 44 World Cup slalom victories at age 17 in 2012.
“It feels a little bit like a new beginning,” she said. “Most of my wins and my best races are behind me. It’s already happened. And, at 25, it’s weird to think the bulk of my best racing in my career is already over.”
Two weeks ago, Shiffrin led after the first run of a slalom in Semmering, Austria, and ended up third.
“When you’re leading in the first run, and second run you’re standing at the top, it’s like, the wait is forever,” she said. “In Semmering, I felt that, and I just was like, I can’t do it. And today, I felt that, and … every second I was like, let me go, let me go, let me go. Like, I want to go.
“It’s amazing, but it doesn’t mean it’s fixed. It’s just, tonight was really, really good.”
Shiffrin solely dominated slalom for years. In recent seasons, Vlhova started grabbing victories. Now, three different women won the last three slaloms, and Liensberger was second in every race.
“I’m starting to enjoy it more,” Shiffrin said of the competition. “It’s always a bit more nerve-racking, or more energy, when you’re thinking all of these girls are right there. If I make one mistake, I don’t win, and I’m off of the podium.”
Shiffrin races again on Saturday and Sunday in giant slaloms in Kranjska Gora, Slovenia, live on Olympic Channel and Peacock Premium. A full TV and live stream schedule is here.
Shiffrin won the most recent World Cup giant slalom on Dec. 14, her first victory since her father’s death. On Tuesday, she described that win as “lucky,” followed by a laugh and said it was accompanied by sadness.
“You can’t really move forward until you stop trying to go back, and I’m having a difficult time with that,” she said. “I want to change so many things that happened this last year. It’s hard not to want that, to just want life to be like it was before Feb. 2. I’m probably going to be struggling with that for a while, but I think that tonight was a pretty big step.”
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