Wendy Holdener

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Mikaela Shiffrin’s rivals don’t believe they can beat her for overall title

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SOELDEN, Austria (AP) — With Mikaela Shiffrin’s dominance in the Alpine skiing World Cup increasing each year, some of her main competitors don’t seem to hold out much hope of beating the American standout for the overall title.

Like Wendy Holdener, who was runner-up to Shiffrin two years ago and third last season.

“I don’t think about the overall at the moment. If it could be a battle, it would be great,” the Swiss skier told The Associated Press on Thursday before the season starts with a giant slalom on the Rettenbach glacier (Saturday, 4 a.m. and 7 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold).

Or Sofia Goggia, who has finished in the top three overall a few times before a fractured ankle halted her challenge for most of last season.

“The goal is to confirm myself on the speed side. But I am not thinking about the overall,” the Italian said.

It will likely leave Petra Vlhova as Shiffrin’s main challenger again. The Slovakian technical specialist won five races last season and even beat Shiffrin once in the American’s strongest discipline, slalom. Vlhova ended the season as the runner-up, but trailed Shiffrin by 801 points.

That was the American’s biggest season-ending margin so far. Shiffrin led Ilka Stuhec of Slovenia by 274 points for her first big crystal globe in 2017, and the difference grew to 671 points over Holdener the next year.

What followed was a record-breaking season, including 17 World Cup wins to raise her career tally to 60, third on the all-time winners list of the women’s World Cup. While Austrian great Annemarie Moser-Proell is within reach with 62 career wins, Shiffrin probably won’t catch Lindsey Vonn this season. The retired four-time overall champions has 82 wins.

Apart from her third straight overall title, Shiffrin won the season titles in slalom, GS and super-G.

“Last season was huge and it was almost too much, so I think I have to be a little bit realistic, too,” Shiffrin said about replicating her achievement.

What separates the upcoming season from the previous three is the lack of a major medal competition. With no Olympics or world championships in February 2020, Shiffrin might choose to step up her efforts in super-G and downhill.

“It actually gives an opportunity to test out a little bit more what I am able to do in speed,” she said. “I feel more comfortable to push there because you don’t have to be safe for a world championship.”

While her build-up to the season has been similar to previous years and her team, led by head coach Mike Day, has remained unchanged, something will be different: mother Eileen, also one of her coaches, won’t travel the whole circuit this season as she is also taking care of her 98-year-old mother.

“But I selfishly asked her when she is able to come, to travel and be with me because she has been a huge piece of my success,” Shiffrin told the AP in a recent interview at the office of her equipment supplier, Atomic.

“Somebody who is so close to me, my mother is my best friend and also an incredible coach. I think that sets me apart from the other athletes,” Shiffrin said. “It sounds a bit selfish but I don’t want to let that go.”

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GOGGIA’S GOALS

Goggia, the Olympic downhill champion, saw her quest for last season’s overall title end before the first race. A broken ankle kept her out until late January, but she returned with a bang, winning super-G silver at the world championships and a World Cup downhill in Switzerland the following month.

“The first races last season were a surprise but when you start with no real expectations, everything can happen,” Goggia said. “When you have your back and your shoulders against the wall, you got one chance to do the right thing. So when it comes to being a shooter, I am a good shooter.”

Goggia’s injury forced her to sit out all but two giant slaloms last season, meaning she has dropped out of the top 30 in the discipline rankings and will get an unfavorable late start position in Saturday’s race.

“I am going to start far behind. I really have no expectations but I have been working a lot,” the Italian said. “In super-G and downhill I am OK, so I am pretty confident and solid.”

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HOLDENER’S HOPE

Having added a few extra days of speed training to her offseason schedule in Zermatt in her native Switzerland, Holdener might increase her number of starts in super-G and downhill.

“It’s difficult to have, like, five disciplines. We will see how the season is starting, which events I am doing in speed. Normally I won’t do a lot of downhills,” she said.

Make no mistake, slalom and GS remain her main events.

“In GS I am top seven but the best girls are still a little bit in front of me,” she said. “Last season sometimes I skied really good and then I took a step back. You shouldn’t do that. You should fight until the finish.”

One of Holdener’s biggest wishes is to finally get that first win in slalom. She amassed 22 top-three results but is yet to win a race.

No skier, male or female, has ever had more World Cup podiums in a single discipline without a win.

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Holdener wins Alpine combined title at worlds, again

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ARE, Sweden — Wendy Holdener retained her Alpine combined title at the skiing world championships Friday by beating Petra Vlhova by 0.03 seconds.

Holdener, who also won the team event at last year’s Pyeongchang Olympics, has now earned gold medals at three straight major championships. She is the fifth woman to win back-to-back world titles in the combined.

The Swiss racer was in fifth place after the downhill leg, and lost time on Vlhova in the top section of the slalom. She was tied with the Slovakian skier after the third checkpoint, but made up ground in the final stretch.

Ragnhild Mowinckel of Norway was third, 0.45 seconds behind Holdener.

Watch the men’s downhill on Saturday, 6:25 a.m. ET

Everything fell into place for Holdener, with her two biggest threats — Mikaela Shiffrin and Michelle Gisin — not competing in the event. Shiffrin, who won the super-G on Tuesday, was sitting it out to preserve energy for next week’s giant slalom and slalom, while Gison was sidelined because of a knee injury.

Then the downhill leg of the event was shortened because of poor visibility, giving slalom specialists — like Holdener — a crucial advantage.

She was in a good position after a clean run in the downhill, with only Ramona Siebenhofer, Ilka Stuhec and then Mowinckel ahead of her. Corinne Suter was in fourth place but decided to skip the slalom.

Unheralded Canadian skier Roni Remme went off under the floodlights at No. 3 in the slalom and held the lead until Vlhova — eighth after the downhill — claimed the lead.

Holdener went two skiers later and started with an advantage of 0.30 seconds over Vlhova. That was soon wiped out. But to the backdrop of cowbells and loud cheers by Swiss fans, Holdener clawed it back and stretched at the finish line to edge in front of Vlhova.

Mowinckel held onto third place, 0.04 seconds ahead of Siebenhofer — the leader after the downhill.

The winner of the event is determined by adding the times from one high-speed downhill run and one shorter slalom leg.

With seven skiers — including Lindsey Vonn — choosing not to take part in the slalom leg, the field was reduced to 26 competitors.

It further damages an event that is already under threat as the International Ski Federation decides on the future of Alpine skiing’s original Olympic discipline, which was introduced at the 1936 Winter Games. FIS could replace Alpine combined with parallel slalom racing at future Olympics and world championships.

The men’s combined is on Monday.

Mikaela Shiffrin can clinch World Cup overall title Friday

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Mikaela Shiffrin will mathematically clinch a second straight World Cup overall title if she finishes sixth or better in a World Cup giant slalom on Friday, her first race since taking gold and silver medals at the PyeongChang Olympics.

The race in Ofterschwang, Germany, is scheduled for 5 a.m. ET (first run) and 8 a.m. (second run), both streaming on OlympicChannel.com and the Olympic Channel app. Olympic Channel will air TV coverage at 7:30 a.m. The women also race a slalom Saturday on the Olympic Channel.

Shiffrin leads the season standings with 1,513 points through 33 of 39 scheduled races, thanks largely to a run of 10 wins in 14 starts between Thanksgiving and Jan. 9.

Swiss Wendy Holdener is in second place with 952 points, putting her 561 points behind with six races left.

A skier can receive a maximum of 100 points per race (that’s for a win), so Holdener would pretty much need to win out and have Shiffrin ski out of the remaining races to pull off one of the most improbable comebacks in sports history.

Holdener said last weekend that “there is no chance” she overtakes Shiffrin, according to The Associated Press.

“I am second, and it would be nice if it stays that way,” she said, according to the AP.

Shiffrin skipped last weekend’s super-G and super combined in Crans-Montana, Switzerland. As did Lindsey Vonn, who is also missing this weekend’s technical events (not her specialties) but will return for the World Cup Finals in Are, Sweden, next week.

If Shiffrin wins two more races between the next two weeks, she will match Vonn’s record for most wins in a World Cup season by an American.

If Shiffrin wins four of the final six races (unlikely but possible), she would tie Swiss Vreni Schneider‘s record for wins in a season by any skier.

A World Cup overall repeat will put Shiffrin halfway to Vonn’s four career overall titles, the annual prize that goes to the world’s best all-around skier.

Shiffrin is also in the running for season titles in the giant slalom and slalom. She is 81 points behind German Viktoria Rebensburg for the GS title and leads the slalom standings by 175 points. There are two races left in each of those disciplines.

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