Mikaela Shiffrin wins last slalom before Olympics, breaks record

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Mikaela Shiffrin won the last World Cup slalom before the Olympics, breaking the record for most World Cup victories in a single discipline and bursting into tears.

Shiffrin earned her 47th slalom victory, one more then Swedish legend Ingemar Stenmark‘s giant slalom total from the 1970s and ’80s. She rallied from fifth place after the first run to prevail by .15 over Petra Vlhova, the world’s top-ranked slalom skier and first-run leader.

“Any time you’re able to be a little bit faster than Petra, that’s an incredible job,” Shiffrin said on ORF as Vlhova stood a few feet from her. “She is so strong. She’s making no mistakes. She’s skiing slalom the way it’s meant to be skied. It’s impressive. It’s really special to watch that.

“It’s a special season she’s had so far. It’s not stopping tonight, that’s for sure.”

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Shiffrin, waiting at the bottom for Vlhova to finish, was surprised the Slovakian didn’t beat her, then leaned over padding and appeared to cry.

She attributed the emotion at least partly to the significance of winning a night slalom in Schladming, Austria, a storied venue that’s mostly used for men’s races.

“I’m just crying a lot lately,” said Shiffrin, who has 73 World Cup wins across all events, third all time and 13 shy of Stenmark’s record. “It feels like it didn’t happen.”

Vlhova, Shiffrin’s primary rival for the last several years, has turned it on this season, winning five of the seven slaloms on the World Cup. Shiffrin also won in Killington, Vermont, on Nov. 28, after the first-run leader Vlhova made a mistake in her second run and ended up second.

Shiffrin entered the second run Tuesday — again, her last competition slalom run before the Olympics — relatively struggling in her trademark event. In the previous slalom on Sunday, she straddled a gate and failed to finish for the first time in four years.

Then she was fifth after the first run in Schladming, potentially staring at missing the podium in back-to-back World Cup slaloms for the first time in seven years.

“Aside from Killington, for obvious reasons, it’s going to be my most memorable race, maybe of my career,” she said. Killington is special because it is the lone World Cup stop in the U.S.

Shiffrin has said she hopes to race all five individual events at the Olympics for the first time. She could enter the Games favored in the giant slalom (currently ranked No. 2 in the world with one GS left before Beijing) and the combined, which is not on the World Cup this season. Shiffrin won the combined at last season’s world championships.

She is also a medal threat in the super-G, with a world championships bronze last season and two third-place finishes on the World Cup this season on a lack of training on super-G skis.

Shiffrin was set back by a back injury in October and November and a COVID infection in late December, missing two races and significant training time.

The women’s World Cup moves to Zauchensee, Austria, for a downhill and super-G this weekend. Shiffrin has not announced whether she will compete.

Also Tuesday, Paula Moltzan and Nina O’Brien clinched Olympic spots as the U.S.’ second- and third-ranked women in both giant slalom and slalom.

Moltzan, a 27-year old who made her first World Cup podium last season, is set to become the oldest U.S. female Alpine skier to compete in her first Winter Olympics in more than 70 years. She has skied with a pole taped to her glove since fracturing her left wrist last month.

O’Brien, 24, has a best World Cup finish of ninth. Last season, she was in second place after the first GS run at the world championships. She led as the penultimate skier in the second run before a late mistake dropped her to 10th.

If the U.S. has enough quota spots, it can name one more woman to compete in GS and/or slalom in Beijing. Or it could use a skier who qualifies in one of the speed events.

MORE: U.S. athletes qualifies for 2022 Winter Olympics

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