Mikaela Shiffrin wins another World Cup slalom
Marie-Michèle Gagnon surges in 2nd run for another top 10
American teenager Mikaela Shiffrin cemented her status as the best slalom skier in the women's World Cup on Tuesday in Flachau, Austria, winning a night race just 38 days before the same event at the Sochi Olympics.
Shiffrin held on to a commanding 0.90-second first-run lead to earn her third victory this season and seventh overall.
"Fun, it was really fun," Shiffrin said. "It's fun to ski like that in the first run. I was really letting it go. Every gate was coming faster and I liked it."
The 18-year-old racer from Eagle-Vail, Colo. overcame two mistakes in her final run to finish in a combined time of 1 minute, 45.83 seconds and beat Frida Hansdotter of Sweden by 0.83. Another Swede, Maria Pietilae-Holmner, was 1.14 back in third.
The significance of the win was certainly not lost the on the American.
"It's nice to sing my national anthem a couple of races before the Olympics," Shiffrin said. "Hopefully I can sing it again in Sochi."
Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany, who leads the overall standings, came fourth, 1.40 off the lead. Defending overall champion Tina Maze of Slovenia was 2.22 behind in 12th.
"Something can always happen," Shiffrin said of the first-run lead, highlighting her shock victory over Maze at the 2013 World Cup finals when the American came from 1.17 behind.
"I learned that at Lenzerheide last year," Shiffrin said. "Even 0.9 or a second seems a lot of time but it can go really fast. You always have to fight."
Shiffrin joined Perrine Pelen of France and Croatia's Janica Kostelic as the only female skiers to win seven World Cup slaloms before turning 19. She has two chances for a record eighth title before her 19th birthday on March 13 — in Maribor, Slovenia on Feb. 2 and Are, Sweden on March 3.
Tuesday's victory also made Shiffrin the only American skier — male or female — to win at least three slaloms in a season twice. Phil Mare in 1981-'82, Tamara McKinney in 1982-'83 and Bode Miller in 2001-'02 achieved the feat once.
Shiffrin, who won the world championship and the World Cup title in slalom last year, extended her lead in the discipline standings. She has now won six out of the last 10 slaloms, while Austria's Marlies Schild and Maze with two victories each are the only other winners.
After the opening run, fog appeared on the upper part of the course and snow began to fall.
As the ruts got deeper, Shiffrin struggled at two gates but quickly recovered both times and still posted the seventh fastest time in the second run.
"I like the hill," Shiffrin said. "It's a tough hill, it's not steep and it's not flat so sometimes you don't know how to take it so you just have to go. I learn something from every race."
She has certainly learnt how to make Hansdotter wait for her first career win again. Hansdotter has finished second in eight races — and on five occasions Shiffrin was the winner.
"I hope I don't have to wait much longer," Hansdotter said. "Maybe I've waited long enough and [my first win] comes in Sochi. I skied really good but I know I can do better. Mikaela was unbeatable today."
Schild, who holds the all-time record for most slalom wins with 35, shared third with Hansdotter after the opening run. However, the Austrian fell in her second run, although she got up to complete the course.
Shiffrin, who won here last year, used an impeccable first run to build a valuable lead on the Griessenkar course. Only Hoefl-Riesch finished within a second.
"I let it go and it was incredible." Shiffrin said after the first run. "It's a really great feeling."
Schild avoided any obvious mistakes to take an early lead, but the loud Austrian crowd of 14,100 was silenced when Shiffrin turned out to be faster at every split time.
"At every gate, I was just letting my skis go a little bit more and then you can get over a second," Shiffrin said.
The annual night slalom is the race with the highest prize money on the women's World Cup circuit, with the winner taking home €43,750 ($59,800).
The event in Flachau was the penultimate slalom on the women's calendar before the Sochi Olympics next month.
The women's World Cup travels to Cortina, Italy, for speed races this weekend.