MARIBOR, Slovenia â€” Not even a broken gate rolling down the course could stop Olympic slalom champion Mikaela Shiffrin from returning to the top of the podium in her favourite discipline.
The American won a women’s World Cup race Sunday, five days after she had failed to finish a slalom run for the first time in four years.
In light snowfall, the American was leading the field by 0.19 seconds when a gate that she had just passed correctly broke and flew down the hill. Shiffrin skied over it but managed to stay on the course.
She fell 0.09 off the lead due to the incident, but accelerated in the bottom section to take the win, 0.19 seconds ahead of Wendy Holdener of Switzerland. Frida Hansdotter of Sweden came 0.31 behind in third.
“I skied over it a couple of times. It just kept coming at me,” Shiffrin said. “The gate was very solidly under my skis for a couple of turns. I felt it but it was OK. I was happy that I didn’t totally lose my ski and fall over.”
It was the American’s 27th career win, which puts her level with Phil Mahre in third place among American skiers with most World Cup wins, behind Bode Miller (33) and Lindsey Vonn (76). She also equaled Swedish standout Ingemar Stenmark’s feat of 27 victories before turning 22. Only Annemarie Moser-Proell of Austria had more wins (41) at that age.
Marie-Michele Gagnon of Lac-Etchemin, Que., was 12th in 1:41.73, while Toronto’s Erin Mielzynski was 16th in 1:42.06.
Shiffrin had her seven-race winning streak come to an end in Tuesday’s race in Zagreb, where she straddled a gate early in her first run.
“It’s always important to be able to change the mindset after something like in Zagreb,” she said. “It’s really easy to get worried about straddling, and then do it again, and again, and again. And then it becomes like a snowball effect and you can’t get out of it.”
Shiffrin seemed free of doubts when she took the lead in the opening leg Sunday. In a clean run on the Radvanje course, she was 0.23 ahead of the competition at the final split time, but lost a few hundredths on the bottom section.
The two-time world champion held a 0.17-second lead over Holdener, with Hansdotter of Sweden 0.38 back in third. The top three held their positions in the final run.
Veronika Velez Zuzulova, who won the race where Shiffrin went out, led the American by 0.08 seconds at the second split time of her first run before the Slovak straddled a gate and did not finish.
Velez Zuzulova has become Shiffrin’s main rival for this season’s slalom title, and now trails the two-world champion by 110 points with three races remaining.
Even if beaten again by Shiffrin, her competitors feel they are closing in on Shiffrin, who won a slalom by more than three seconds last season.
“Mikaela is always fast,” Hansdotter said. “But it’s fun to see the other girls are coming closer.”
Runner-up Holdener, who missed out on becoming the first Swiss winner of a women’s slalom in 15 years, added “it’s good to know that she is not that far away. Every girl has some parts to improve, Mikaela as well. But it’s good to know she is not one second in front or more.”
Despite winning again, Shiffrin said she was not completely satisfied with her racing this season.
“I have not been skiing in the races like I can ski, not even close,” she said. “And it’s a bit disappointing, actually, even to come down and win. Right now, I am not happy with just winning, I want to ski well.”
In one of her rare slalom starts, defending overall champion Lara Gut finished 4.27 behind Shiffrin and failed to qualify for the second run. The Swiss skier was preparing for a combined event next week, which includes a slalom run.
Shiffrin leads Gut by 305 points in the overall standings, but the American said the situation was likely to change with a lot of speed races coming up before next month’s world championships.
“There is four speed series coming so I expect that the lead will disappear quick,” she said.
The women’s World Cup travels to Austria for a night slalom in Flachau on Tuesday, followed by a downhill and a combined event in Altenmarkt-Zauchensee at the weekend.
Eric Willemsen, The Associated Press