Mikaela Shiffrin gets first win of Olympic season in rout (video)

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KILLINGTON, Vt. — Mikaela Shiffrin reclaimed her slalom dominance, at least for one day, with her first win of the Olympic season on Sunday.

The youngest Olympic slalom champion routed the field in windy conditions with flurries falling at the East Coast resort.

Shiffrin, 22, led by .89 after the morning run and ended up 1.64 seconds ahead following the second and final afternoon run.

Shiffrin’s new rival, Slovakian Petra Vlhova, was second, followed by Austrian Bernadette Schild.

Full results are here.

Before this race, Shiffrin was beaten in consecutive slaloms by the same woman for the first time in nearly four years. That woman, Vlhova, is three months younger than the U.S. phenom.

Shiffrin also went winless in her first three races of a season for the first time since the 2012-13 campaign. Shiffrin did, though, notch runner-up finishes in two of those three, including Saturday’s giant slalom in Killington.

That augured success for her fourth race this fall in her trademark discipline Sunday.

Shiffrin didn’t disappoint, posting the fastest time in both runs, though she believed the wind aided her in the opening run.

Her margin of victory was the largest for any women’s World Cup race since Shiffrin won the March 2016 World Cup Finals slalom by 2.03 seconds.

“There’s definitely a bit of a relief feeling,” said Shiffrin, who was so nervous last season that she puked before races but has kept everything down in the Olympic season thus far. “When I ski really good slalom, it almost feels like I’m flying. I had a bit of that feeling both runs today.”

Shiffrin and Vlhova trained together for two sessions two weeks ago before the first World Cup slalom of the season in Finland.

It was unusual for Shiffrin to train with a woman who beat her in the last slalom of the previous season, but when she arrived at the venue two days before the race, Vlhova was already there.

So they went head-to-head. Sometimes, Shiffrin was faster. Others, Vlhova was faster.

“I was almost like a deer in the headlights because I hadn’t really felt one particular person who was really pushing me that hard like she was in those training sessions,” said Shiffrin, unequivocally the world’s best slalom skier for the last four years. “I see something different in her that it makes me want to be better, if that makes sense. Not just to win races, but to hold myself to a higher standard of skiing.”

Once they were done, Vlhova put her hand on Shiffrin’s shoulder and thanked her. Shiffrin was fuming before that, “because I hate training with anybody who’s even close to me.”

But the gesture forced Shiffrin to change.

“It’s like competing against Roger Federer, you want to hate him, but you can’t,” said Shiffrin, who hasn’t trained with Vlhova since (Vlhova’s coach reportedly takes video of Shiffrin for them to study so much that Shiffrin’s mom said that Vlhova “skis like Mikaela more than Mikaela skis like Mikaela.”). “That was really nice of [Vlhova] to say, but I still want to beat you.”

Vlhova went on to beat Shiffrin by one tenth of a second, overcoming Shiffrin’s lead of .21 after the first run.

“That’s what sort of set the tone,” Shiffrin said of those days in Finland. “It reminds me of how I like to work. Kudos to her, and I’m just going to try to do better.”

Vlhova gestured with her hand in a press conference after Sunday’s race. She held it level when speaking of Shiffrin. She waved it back and forth when talking about her own skiing.

“[Shiffrin is] like every race she goes without mistakes,” said Vlhova, who was in fifth place after a surprisingly slow first run Sunday morning. “This is maybe what I have to learn from Mikaela, that she goes like this and she’s always on the top.”

The World Cup moves to Lake Louise, Alberta, next weekend.

Shiffrin is expected to join Lindsey Vonn for two downhills and a super-G starting Friday.

Julia Mancuso, a medalist at each of the last three Olympics, is uncertain to race in what she hoped would be her first events since March 2015 following prolonged hip problems.

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Killington Slalom
1. Mikaela Shiffrin (USA) — 1:40.91
2. Petra Vlhova (SVK) — +1.64
3. Bernadette Schild (AUT) — +2.67
21. Resi Stiegler (USA) — +4.77

Mikaela Shiffrin, powered by Instagram message, second in Killington (video)

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Mikaela Shiffrin, after finishes of fifth, second and second in her first three races this season, an uplifting Instagram message and listening to Eminem all day — had this to say:

“I feel like I’m chasing a little bit,” she said after a runner-up in a World Cup giant slalom in Killington, Vt. “Today was definitely a better performance, but I still feel like I’m chasing, which is, actually, my favorite place to be because I feel less like I have to perform and more like I’m doing it for myself.”

That may seem unusual for the reigning World Cup overall champion, a 22-year-old who dominated slalom the last several years.

But Shiffrin is facing new challenges. She was beaten in her last two slaloms by Slovakian Petra Vlhova, who is three months younger.

On Saturday, German Viktoria Rebensburg won her second straight giant slalom. The 2010 Olympic GS champion also prevailed in the season’s first race in Soelden, Austria, in October, after going winless last season.

Shiffrin, the No. 2 GS skier in the world last season, ended up .67 of a second behind Rebensburg after two runs in front of some 18,000 people.

Rebensburg led by .26 over Shiffrin after the morning run and also had the fastest afternoon run by .32.

Shiffrin looked primed to vault into the lead when Rebensburg, the last skier to go, was halfway through her second run. Rebensburg’s advantage was trimmed to .08, but the veteran made up six tenths in the last 30 seconds.

Shiffrin was also second after the first run of the previous giant slalom last month. But she made an uncharacteristic mistake in her second run and dropped to fifth place, .74 behind the resurgent Rebensburg.

Knowing that, Shiffrin was pleased with Saturday’s runner-up that matched her result in the first World Cup slalom two weeks ago.

“I was excited to put some risk on the hill,” Shiffrin said on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA. “I’ve done a lot of races where I’m second place or first place in the first run and then I ended up falling back to fifth or sixth or past that. So it was really nice to know that I had gone for it, and it paid off.”

Italian Manuela Moelgg was third, 1.49 seconds behind. Full results are here.

Shiffrin, who finished fifth in the Sochi Olympic giant slalom, improved to silver behind Tessa Worley of France at last season’s worlds. Worley was sixth Saturday.

Rebensburg, who at 28 is six years older than Shiffrin, is challenging for Olympic GS favorite. She was third in the Sochi Olympic GS, then took silver at the 2015 Worlds before going 19 months between wins.

Shiffrin is still looking for her first win of the season, but she speaks in high spirits after a 2016-17 campaign that brought anxiety and led her to work with a sports psychologist.

Before Saturday’s race, Shiffrin was boosted by a fan’s Instagram message.

“We’re not hear to watch you win,” she told Shiffrin. “We’re here to support you. We’re just here to watch ski racing. We’re so excited, so we hope you don’t feel pressure from us.

“I read this message,” Shiffrin continued. “I was like, that made me feel so much better. So, to the fans out there who are writing direct messages, I do read them. And thank you.”

The women contest a slalom Sunday in Killington (broadcast schedule here), an anticipated head-to-head between Shiffrin and Vlhova.

The Slovakian emerged as the biggest slalom threat to Shiffrin since the American displaced Austrian Marlies Schild in the year before the Sochi Winter Games.

“The last Olympics, it’s almost like I forgot the Olympics were that season until February rolled around,” said Shiffrin, who wore new boots for Saturday’s race. “I’m trying to actually peak almost every single weekend when I’m doing slalom, GS, super-G and some downhill. It’s less of trying to have a huge peak for the Olympics and just sort of trying to peak every single race. The Olympics is included in that, which makes it a little bit easier in a way. I don’t have just one goal for the Olympics this year. I have a lot of goals that are equally as important to me.”

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Killington Giant Slalom
1. Viktoria Rebensburg (GER) — 1:57.63
2. Mikaela Shiffrin (USA) — .67
3. Manuela Moelgg (ITA) — 1.49
29. Megan McJames (USA) — 4.12

Watch Mikaela Shiffrin take on new rival this weekend

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Just as the Olympic season is starting, Mikaela Shiffrin faces maybe her toughest challenge yet in the slalom.

Shiffrin, the reigning Olympic, world and World Cup champion in the discipline, goes into this weekend’s World Cup races in Killington, Vt., having taken second in the last two slaloms behind emerging Slovakian Petra Vlhova.

Sunday’s slalom in Killington, following a giant slalom on Saturday, could determine in the eyes of many the Olympic slalom favorite.

The broadcast schedule:

  • Giant Slalom first run – Saturday, 9:45am (Stream here)
  • Giant Slalom second run – Saturday, 12:30pm (Olympic Channel) (Stream here)
  • Slalom first run – Sunday, 9:45am (Stream here)
  • Slalom first run – Sunday, 1 pm (NBC) (Stream here)

Shiffrin, who is 22 like Vlhova, is the reigning World Cup overall champion, an award that honors the best skier across all disciplines over the course of a season.

It was a milestone in the young racer’s career, but as her all-around skills improved, her grip on her signature slalom is no longer iron clad.

Vlhova beat Shiffrin at the World Cup Finals in March in Aspen, Colo., and at this season’s opening slalom in Finland two weeks ago.

“In all honesty, Petra skis like Mikaela more than Mikaela skis like Mikaela,” Shiffrin’s mom, Eileen, said before the Finland race, according to the Denver Post. “Their coaches are always on the hill, videoing Mikaela. I think Petra is going to give Mikaela a real run for her money.”

It marked the first time since December 2013 that another woman won consecutive World Cup slaloms over fields that included Shiffrin. It was Marlies Schild four years ago, just before the Austrian veteran ceded her dominance to Shiffrin going into the Sochi Olympics.

“Mikaela, she’s always fast, but now I am fast,” Vlhova said after her win two weeks ago.

First is Saturday’s giant slalom, where Vlhova is not expected to factor into the podium race.

Shiffrin ranked second in the world in GS last season, continuing a steady rise since placing fifth in Sochi.

Minute Frenchwoman Tessa Worley dominated the GS last season, taking the World Cup and world championships titles, including a win in Killington.

At this season’s opening giant slalom in October, Shiffrin was in second place after the first run but got bumped off her line in the second run and ended up fifth.

Worley ended up second behind 2010 Olympic GS champion Viktoria Rebensburg of Germany.

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