Mikaela Shiffrin moved closer to her fourth World Cup overall title by notching her first downhill victory in two years, prevailing at the World Cup Finals in Courchevel, France, on Wednesday.
Shiffrin, in her 15th career World Cup downhill start, earned her third career downhill win and 74th World Cup victory across all disciplines. She trailed at all but the last intermediate split, then crossed the finish line one tenth ahead of Austrian Christine Scheyer and Swiss Joana Haehlen.
Shiffrin covered her mouth in an act of speechlessness. Moments later, she embraced boyfriend Aleksander Aamodt Kilde, the Norwegian who won the men’s downhill season title two hours earlier.
“Are you kidding me? That was amazing,” Kilde told her. “How did you actually do that?”
Shiffrin said she benefited from talking downhill course strategy with Kilde earlier this week. Shiffrin, whose best finish in three previous downhills this season was 18th, said she considered not racing the event at Finals, where all four disciplines are contested in a five-days span.
Then she was fastest in Tuesday’s training run.
“I’m supposed to not be winning downhills,” she said. “I’m not a downhill skier right now. I mean, I have great pieces, but it takes a lot of thought, a lot of work, a lot of effort. And some of the things that, for many of the other women comes natural, is not coming natural for me.”
Shiffrin upped her lead in the standings for the overall title, the biggest annual prize in ski racing, from 56 points to 156 points over Slovakian rival Petra Vlhova. Vlhova, the Olympic slalom gold medalist, was 16th on Wednesday in her worst discipline, scoring zero points.
A race winner receives 100 points, with 80 for second, 60 for third and 50 for fourth on a descending scale through the 15th skier. Vlhova must average making up more than 50 points per race on Shiffrin in the final three races to overtake her, starting with Thursday’s super-G.
The overall title goes to the best racer by combining results from races in all disciplines over the 37-race season that started in October. Shiffrin is trying to tie Lindsey Vonn for second place in women’s history with four titles, trailing only Austrian legend Annemarie Moser-Pröll, who won six in the 1970s.
Shiffrin ranks third in World Cup history with 74 wins, trailing Vonn (82) and Swede Ingemar Stenmark (86). She also joined Anja Pärson, Marc Girardelli and Bode Miller as skiers to win at least three times each in the primary disciplines of downhill, super-G, giant slalom and slalom.
Wednesday marked Shiffrin’s first victory since the Olympics, where her best individual finish was ninth among five races. Three times this season Shiffrin came back from significant adversity to top a World Cup podium, also including a back injury in October and November and a COVID quarantine over Christmas.
Earlier Wednesday, Swiss Marco Odermatt clinched his first overall title by finishing second in the downhill behind Austrian Vincent Kriechmayr.
Odermatt, 24, upped an already comfortable 329-point lead to an insurmountable 359 points over Kilde with three races left.
Kilde, by finishing fourth Wednesday, clinched his first downhill season title.
He came into the finals with a 23-point lead in the discipline standings over Swiss Olympic gold medalist Beat Feuz, who finished third, gaining 10 points on the Norwegian. Feuz would have passed Kilde with a second-place finish.
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