After such a big win, Mikaela Shiffrin was at a complete loss. Her quandary? How to celebrate.
Even after all her victories, she’s never really learned the art of the post-race exultation. So she simply stood there at the finish, frozen by her emotions.
The fans roared anyway for the American teenager from just down the road.
Shiffrin became the third woman to win back-to-back slalom titles at the world championships with a strong burst near the end of a choppy course Saturday. She finished in a combined time of 1 minute, 38.48 seconds, edging Frida Hansdotter of Sweden by 0.34 seconds. Sarka Strachova of the Czech Republic earned bronze.
“I’m not that great at showing my emotions,” said Shiffrin, who won the slalom two years ago at worlds in Austria. “Guess I have to work on that.”
These days, that’s about the only thing.
With Lindsey Vonn done for the Beaver Creek championships, the 19-year-old Shiffrin, who’s from nearby Eagle-Vail, slipped into the role of hometown favourite and didn’t disappoint.
First, though, a little nap an hour before the race. The cameras caught her dozing in a snow bank, oblivious to what was going on. She said she was just hot and needed to cool off.
That little catnap left her well rested for a late change.
Leading after the first pass, Shiffrin fell behind in her final run, only to switch to another gear with the finish line in sight and make up ground on the last few gates in softer snow. A pretty impressive recovery to become the first female skier to captured a slalom title in her backyard at worlds since Italy’s Deborah Compagnoni at Sestriere in 1997.
“It does mean a lot — I’m admitting that now that the race is over,” said Shiffrin, whose birthday is next month. “I can now admit how much I wanted this race.
“I found my rhythm and just kept going and it just got better and better,” she said. “Everybody I talked to kept saying, ‘Whoa, you almost killed us down here (with that run).'”
That’s nothing compared to how she won her Olympic gold at the Sochi Games last February. In that slalom race, she briefly lost her balance, her left ski rising too far off the snow before finding a way to recover for the win.
She’s good at that.
Still, by being a little slower up top Saturday it gave Hansdotter a glimmer of hope of possibly earning a gold medal. Just a glimmer, though.
“Then the last part she was skiing really good and I knew she would take it,” said Hansdotter, who leads the slalom standings this season on the World Cup circuit.
Shiffrin vows to work on her celebration. Maybe come up with something cool. You know, like Ted Ligety throwing his ski after winning the giant slalom Friday. Or how Lindsey Vonn falls to the snow after her big victories. Or maybe something like Tina Maze of Slovenia performing cartwheels.
“I feel like all the best racers had an epic finish celebration,” Shiffrin said. “I come into the finish and I’m like, ‘That was fun.’ I’m not quite at that level yet.”
Shiffrin’s performance increases the medal count for Team USA to five with only the men’s slalom Sunday left on the program. The Austrians lead with nine medals.
Maze finished eighth in the slalom. Still, it was a memorable world championships for her as she earned two golds and a silver.
This was the fourth medal at worlds for Strachova since 2005. She also has a bronze from the 2010 Vancouver Games.
In 2012, she underwent surgery to remove a tumour on her pituitary gland.
“Before, when I was younger, I was not thinking so much about the results. It was quite easier, but after my injury I lost my self-confidence,” Strachova said. “It was really hard. This season, from the beginning, I had a feeling I can be strong again. The self-confidence was back. Today, I achieved two good runs. I don’t know why I’m so strong at the big events.”
Starting 21st in the final run, Veronika Velez Zuzulova of Slovakia turned in the fastest time on a course set by her father. She had the lead until the final three came down the course, bumping her off the podium and into fourth.
She knew that Shiffrin was going to turn in an electric run.
“I took my backpack and was ready to leave,” Zuzulova said. “I was so sure she would do that.”
photo Getty Images
photo Getty images