Mikaela Shiffrin maintains overall World Cup lead despite recent struggles
American star skis off course to end slalom winning streak
Mikaela Shiffrin ended her six-race winning streak in World Cup slaloms on Sunday in Lenzerheide, Switzerland when she stunned her rivals by skiing off course with a lead of a full second in sight of the finish.
Shiffrin lost rhythm and balance going into a straight combination with six gates left, handing victory to Petra Vlhova of Slovakia in the last slalom before the Pyeongchang Olympics.
Originally listed as a "Did Not Finish" by race organizers, Shiffrin hiked back up the hill, paused and passed through the gate before skiing slowly down.
The American star was given 27th place, almost 14 seconds behind Vlhova, in her final World Cup race before going to South Korea for the Olympics. After Shiffrin started 2018 with five straight wins in World Cup events, her winless streak is now six.
Vlhova, who posted a two-run time of one minute 50.53 seconds, looked shocked in the finish area to have her first victory since November, when Shiffrin was runner-up at Levi, Finland, for her only other loss this season.
Erin Mielzynski of Collingwood, Ont., finished 2.16 seconds behind the winner for eighth place with a time of 1:52.69. Mielzynski adds this to her season-best seventh-place result, along with two other top-15 finishes. The 27-year-old heads into the Olympics ranked 20th overall in slalom on the World Cup circuit.
Vlhova 'was in a crisis' before win
Vlhova finished 0.10 seconds ahead of Frida Hansdotter of Sweden, and 0.52 clear of third-placed Wendy Holdener of Switzerland.
"I am really sorry for Mikaela," said Vlhova, who missed the podium in the four previous World Cup slaloms. "I won and I'm really happy because I needed this. I was in crisis a little bit."
Still, Shiffrin retained her big leads in the World Cup overall and slalom standings. Holdener is second overall and Vlhova second in the slalom standings.
It was the final World Cup slalom before the Feb. 14 medal race at the Pyeongchang Olympics where Shiffrin will defend her title. She is also the reigning world champion and World Cup season-long champion in the discipline she dominates.
Shiffrin already planned to skip a World Cup parallel slalom event in Stockholm on Tuesday and two downhills next weekend at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany.
Difficult weekend for Shiffrin
It completed a difficult weekend for Shiffrin at Lenzerheide where she enjoyed one of her greatest career days in 2013. Then, at the World Cup finals, a remarkable and fast second run ensured she edged Tina Maze for her first season-long slalom title at age 18.
On Saturday, Shiffrin placed just seventh in a giant slalom that included an especially steep and twisting start to each run.
Shiffrin said Sunday the previous day's race left her "pretty heartbroken" to confront the limits of her technical skills in giant slalom.
"That's a hard thing to stare at straight in the face," Shiffrin said, speaking after she took a clear lead in the first slalom run. After another cautious start Sunday morning, she raced down the bottom half to be 0.65 faster than second-placed Holdener.
Another slalom win — a 34th in World Cups for the Olympic and three-time world champion — seemed assured until a rare mistake took Shiffrin off the podium for the first time in more than a year.