mikaela shiffrin

Mikaela Shiffrin nearly makes it three-way tie for World Cup win

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Mikaela Shiffrin came .01 shy of making it a three-way tie for a World Cup giant slalom win on Saturday, confirming GS has been the most up-for-grabs discipline for either gender in recent years.

Shiffrin, beaten in her last two slaloms, had the fastest second run to place third behind co-winners Italian Federica Brignone and Slovakian Petra Vlhova in Sestriere, Italy. The reigning Olympic and World Cup champion in the GS rallied from fourth place and .42 behind after the first run.

Shiffrin still leads the World Cup overall standings by 233 points over Vlhova. The American last won Dec. 29. Though she made the podium in three of her four races since, Shiffrin expressed a lack of confidence heading into this weekend’s races at the 2006 Olympic venue.

“The most exciting thing for me is that people have stopped asking me, like, are you unbeatable?” said Shiffrin, who won a record 17 World Cup races last season and has four victories nearly halfway through this season, tied with Vlhova for most on tour. “I feel really good in GS. It’s just been a long time since [the last GS on Dec. 28].”

Vlhova earned her third victory this month after beating Shiffrin those last two slaloms. Brignone leads the GS season standings by 61 points over Shiffrin, seeking to become the sixth different woman to win that discipline title in the last six years. There are four more GS races left this season.

It’s the second straight season with a World Cup GS tie. Last Feb. 1, Shiffrin and Vlhova tied in Maribor, Slovenia.

It’s the first time the top three finishers were separated by such a small margin since the last three-way tie for a win in 2006, when Lindsey VonnMichaela Dorfmeister and Nadia Styger had the same super-G time, and fourth-place Kelly VanderBeek was .01 behind.

“Last season, I had the lucky side of the hundredths many times, so sometimes I’m not going to be on the lucky side, too,” said Shiffrin, who had three victories by .16 or tighter last season.

World Cup racing continues with a parallel giant slalom on Sunday at 5:45 a.m. ET on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA and streaming on NBC Sports Gold.

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Mikaela Shiffrin fights fatigue as World Cup season hits turning point

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Mikaela Shiffrin has little free time these days — during the part of the season where she feels most fatigued — but she has noticed the reaction to her finishing second and third in her last two slaloms, sandwiched by a DNF in a combined race.

“It’s really funny to think that this would be what most people would consider like a bad season or poor results or something, but I’ve been on both [slalom] podiums [in 2020] and won multiple races [this season],” she said Thursday after getting edged in back-to-back World Cup slaloms for the first time since 2017. “It’s sort of like, OK, I’ll take that. … If this is what a bad season [is], then I’m going to take that and be grateful and keep working because the position I’m in is pretty incredible when you think about it.”

That position is a familiar one, leading the World Cup overall standings comfortably (by 273 points) as the season nears its midpoint. Shiffrin is on pace to become the second woman to win four straight overalls, joining Austrian legend Annemarie Moser-Pröll.

Competition continues this weekend. The women’s World Cup moves to Sestriere, Italy, for a giant slalom and parallel giant slalom on Saturday (8:05 a.m. ET) and Sunday (5:45 a.m.) on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA and streaming on NBC Sports Gold.

It marks the culmination of a monthlong stretch of technical races — Shiffrin’s specialties — at six stops among five different countries. The racing, the traveling left her short on training and resting, common for her at the turn of January given the World Cup calendar is similar from year to year.

“It’s hard to totally find that fire when I’m kind of beating my head against the wall,” she said.

A difference this year: the improvement of fellow 24-year-old Petra Vlhova, the Slovakian who won the last two World Cup slaloms. Vlhova previously beat Shiffrin in back-to-back slaloms at the end of the 2016-17 season and beginning of the 2017-18 season, but Shiffrin reasserted her dominance after finishing fourth at the PyeongChang Olympics.

“It just seems to me like [Vlhova] has been gaining more and more confidence in her skiing,” Shiffrin said. “It’s taken her a while to get to the point where she really has the confidence to throw down in that sense.”

Still, Shiffrin leads the World Cup slalom standings — 80 points — from winning the first three slaloms this season. If Shiffrin finishes second in the final four slaloms this winter, Vlhova would have to win them all to take the title on a tiebreak.

Vlhova’s team has been known to film other skiers’ training sessions, a practice that is not illegal in the sport (and common when athletes from different nations train together). Back in November, Shiffrin expressed concern about being filmed during training by those whose athletes weren’t present, but she clarified Thursday that she was not referring to Vlhova’s team in that interview.

“[Vlhova] has gotten her skiing to a really incredible point,” Shiffrin said Thursday. “I absolutely respect that, and that’s it.”

After Sestriere comes three straight weekends of speed races: downhills and super-Gs. Shiffrin plans to head to the first set in Bulgaria next weekend, then take it day by day from there. She’s looking forward to the next technical events in Slovenia in mid-February, which she likened to “a new season.”

“I was skiing at 100 percent of my ability [in recent races], knowing that my ability was maybe not as high as it has been when I’ve come off a really good training session or a block of rest,” Shiffrin said. “I feel like I’m going to be able to raise my level of skiing again, but it’s just going to take a little bit of time.”

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Mikaela Shiffrin edged again by Petra Vlhova in Flachau slalom

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Mikaela Shiffrin was beaten in back-to-back World Cup slaloms for the first time since 2017, relegated by Slovakian Petra Vlhova for a second straight time in Flachau, Austria, on Tuesday.

Vlhova, the giant slalom world champion, distanced third-place Shiffrin by .43 of a second combining times from two runs under the lights. Vlhova led by six tenths over Shiffrin after the first run.

Swede Anna Swenn-Larsson passed Shiffrin in the second run to finish runner-up, one tenth behind Vlhova. Shiffrin’s streak of 15 straight slaloms finishing first or second ends. Full results are here.

“I am happy to be on the podium again. I am disappointed with my skiing. But that’s ski racing,” Shiffrin said, according to The Associated Press. “Her [Vlhova’s] skiing is the best.”

It came 10 days after Vlhova beat Shiffrin by 1.31 seconds in a slalom in Zagreb, Croatia, marking the largest margin of victory by anyone over Shiffrin in a slalom since 2014 (excluding Shiffrin DNFs).

“The way I’ve been on top with my skiing for all these years is because I did more work, harder work and stronger work than everyone else,” Shiffrin said, according to U.S. Ski & Snowboard. “I worked smarter. I could come to the races and I had to push, I knew that, but I worked hard enough that confidence wasn’t a factor. I could ski even when I wasn’t confident, and my good skiing would be enough. Right now, it’s difficult to balance everything — to balance what I want to accomplish in the sport with everything and still be able to stay on top going against girls who are working really hard.”

Vlhova previously handed Shiffrin back-to-back slalom defeats in the last race of the 2016-17 season and the first race of the 2017-18 season. After that, Shiffrin reeled off wins in 18 of 20 traditional World Cup slaloms before Vlhova’s latest repeat victories.

The last time Shiffrin lost consecutive slaloms in one season was late 2014, soon after which her coach of four years, Roland Pfeifer, was reassigned. The last time she finished a slalom and was outside the top two was in Flachau three years ago.

Vlhova, who is 24 and three months younger than Shiffrin, has been the American’s only slalom rival the last few years. The duo combined to win the last 25 World Cup slaloms (19 for Shiffrin, six for Vlhova). Vlhova’s staff has been known to film Shiffrin’s training sessions.

“I know that she is angry because she wants to always win,” Vlhova said of Shiffrin, who hugged the Slovakian in congratulations immediately after Tuesday’s race and at the trophy presentation. “It’s good to have Miki close to me because she push me to more than maybe I have inside. I think it’s very important for skiing, for our sport, to have to girls like this.

“I want to have a friend relationship with her, but we can’t because we are on the top, and everybody wants to win.”

Shiffrin’s mom and longtime coach said in 2017 that the four-inches-taller Vlhova “skis like Mikaela more than Mikaela skis like Mikaela,” according to the Denver Post.

In Tuesday’s post-race press conference, Shiffrin first wanted to be clear that her coach Mike Day, who set the second-run course, did not align the gates to try and slow down Vlhova.

“Maybe the most important thing I wanted to say tonight is we don’t do that,” she said. “We don’t play those games. I think it’s bad karma. It’s a testament to Petra’s skiing that you can’t set a course against her right now because her skiing is the best.”

Shiffrin remains tied with Lindsey Vonn for the most World Cup wins in one discipline for a woman. Shiffrin has 43 slaloms, and the retired Vonn took 43 downhills.

The next World Cup slalom is Feb. 16 in Maribor, Slovenia. There are four World Cup slaloms left this season. Shiffrin leads the slalom season standings by 80 points, eyeing her seventh crystal globe for the discipline. If Vlhova wins the last four slaloms, with Shiffrin finishing second each time, Vlhova would take the title in a tiebreaker.

The women’s World Cup moves to Sestriere, Italy, for a giant slalom and parallel giant slalom on Saturday (8:05 a.m. ET) and Sunday (5:45 a.m.) on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA and streaming on NBC Sports Gold.

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MORE: Shiffrin among 10 dominant Winter Olympians of 2010s decade