American Olympic champ Shiffrin wins World Cup slalom opener
Even with less pre-season slalom training than usual, American skier Mikaela Shiffrin keeps dominating her favorite discipline.
The Olympic and world champion shifted her focus in practice to super-G and even downhill, but her reign in the slalom discipline has remained unaffected.
Shiffrin held on to a comfortable opening-run lead to win the first women's World Cup slalom of the season yesterday in freezing conditions of minus 9 degrees Celsius (16 degrees Fahrenheit), dropping even more to around minus 14 C (7 F) for the second run.
She finished in a two-run combined time of 1 minute, 52.71 seconds, 0.67 ahead of Switzerland's Wendy Holdener.
Slovakia's Petra Vlhova came 0.75 back in third.
"Now I almost feel like I wish there was more time before the next races so I could train more and improve more," Shiffrin said about increasing the number of speed events on her schedule.
The rest of yesterday's field trailed Shiffrin by at least a second, while Sweden's Frida Hansdotter, who was runner-up after the opening leg, failed to finish her second run.
"I am never confident, really," said Shiffrin, who has won all nine slaloms that she has competed in since February 2015. However, Hansdotter took the slalom title last season as Shiffrin missed five races because of a knee injury.
"There was a lot of doubt in my mind," Shiffrin said. "I was very nervous."
Shiffrin's ninth consecutive win left her one short of Janica Kostelic's record. The Croatian great won 10 straight slaloms that she competed in between December 1999 and February 2001.
Still, Shiffrin wouldn't take anything for granted, referring to the strength of her challengers.
"Frida went out, and Wendy skied really strong but she had a huge mistake the first run," the American said. "Without that mistake she would have been even faster, and Petra was really good as well."
The victory in northern Finland earned Shiffrin an usual prize — a reindeer. She got one from her previous win here in 2013 and called him 'Rudolph.' This time she was going to call him 'Sven' — after the reindeer from the movie "Frozen."
It was Shiffrin's 21st career win and 20th in slalom, matching Kostelic's number of wins. Only Austria's Marlies Raich (35) and Swiss pair Vreni Schneider (34) and Erika Hess (21) won more slaloms.
Racing down the slope in the orange glow of the setting Arctic sun, Shiffrin took a 0.72-second lead over Hansdotter and Holdener, who shared second place after the opening run.
While Holdener put pressure on Shiffrin with a near-flawless second attempt, Hansdotter — last season's title holder — straddled a gate when she entered the steep pitch and skied out in the middle section.
"I really wanted to go for it today, and for sure the end of last season was great, so it gave me confidence," Holdener said. "I had to learn to be more aggressive on the skis. I really love skiing and it wasn't easy to focus and give everything."
Vlhova skied on the safe side in the first run.
"We talked with my team that I have to go full gas in second run," Vlhova said. "I'm happy it worked out."
Shiffrin wasn't clean from the start of her final run and had lost 0.13 on Holdener at the first split, but the American accelerated to extend her lead to 0.92 before avoiding risks in the final part of her run.
The victory gave Shiffrin, who placed second in the season-opening GS last month, the lead in the overall standings with 180 points, 80 clear of Lara Gut.
The overall champion from Switzerland won the race last month but usually does not compete in slaloms.
The 18-year-old Melanie Meillard of Switzerland, who was competing in her fourth World Cup race, started in 40th but finished sixth, 1.87 off the lead. Austria's Bernadette Schild, younger sister of retired slalom great Marlies Raich, failed to qualify for the second run after damaging the edge of a ski early in her run and finishing 3.92 seconds behind Shiffrin.
A men's slalom on the same course is scheduled for today.