AGREB, Croatia – American skier Mikaela Shiffrin continued her recent resurgence in slalom by convincingly winning her second straight World Cup race, leaving her rivals in awe four weeks before she defends her world title in Beaver Creek. Canada’s Erin Mielzynski and Marie-Michèle Gagnon finished 6th and 7th, respectively.
“The girls did a good job,” says Jim Pollock, Canadian women’s head coach. “We’ve been training really well. We worked hard over Christmas and New Year’s. Step by step, we’re getting where we need to be.”
Mielzynski, of Guelph, ON, had a two-run combined time of 2:00.68 to claim her first top-10 finish this season. Mielzynski has taken a liking to the track at Zagreb. Two years ago, at the same race, she got on the podium with a 3rd-place finish.
Gagnon continues an impressive season in slalom with three top-10s , having finish 8th in the Aspen, Colorado slalom on Nov. 30 and 6th at Levi, Finland on Nov. 15.
On Sunday, Gagnon finished just behind Mielzynski in 2:01.01.
In sunny conditions and cheered by 8,000 spectators, Shiffrin posted the fastest time in both runs to finish in an aggregate 1 minute, 56.66 seconds and lead second-place Kathrin Zettel of Austria by 1.68 seconds, the biggest winning margin in the 10-year history of the event.
“For the first time in my career, I just feel like I am in complete control of myself,” said Shiffrin, who sorted out some equipment issues by changing her boots and skis and tweaked her mindset during a 10-day training camp in Italy in December.
“I feel really comfortable on my feet right now after a lot of testing in Santa Caterina but also really great training,” the American said. “I have started off really great with my career but I am hoping to keep improving … I feel like I am in a really great place right now.”
Nina Loeseth of Norway was 2.79 back in third for her maiden career podium finish and first for a Norwegian female skier since 2002, while the rest of the field trailed Shiffrin by more than three seconds.
Shiffrin won the slalom World Cup the past two seasons but failed to reach a podium in the first three races this season until dominating in Kuehtai, Austria, last week, where she also won both runs.
“With every single run that I take I get more confident,” the American skier said. “My skiing is good right now, it’s kind of back on track and my equipment feels really good.”
It was the American’s 12th career World Cup win and 11th in slalom, matching a World Cup record set in 1980 by France’s Perrine Pelen for most slalom wins as a teenager.
“It’s a crazy feeling to be the last racer on the hill in the second run and to be like, ‘OK, it’s on me now,'” said Shiffrin, who also won the Snow Queen Trophy two years ago. “There is some pressure there but it’s nice when I deal with it and still ski well. That’s one of the best feelings in the world.”
Shiffrin didn’t try to merely defend her 0.80-second lead over Zettel from the opening run but went out attacking in her second as well.
“Mikaela was amazing, so super strong,” said Zettel, adding she was “really happy” with coming runner-up to the American. “Mikaela is from a different planet. It looks like nothing can go wrong, it looks so smooth and easy and she’s obviously having a lot of fun.”
Frida Hansdotter of Sweden placed fourth to retain her lead in the discipline standings with 320 points, though Shiffrin has closed the gap to a single point. Tina Maze is 25 points behind Shiffrin in third, and the Slovenian skier stayed atop the overall standings after placing fifth in Sunday’s slalom.
Sarka Strachova, who was third after the opening run, straddled a gate and failed to finish, while Sweden’s Maria Pietilae-Holmner and Austria’s Nicole Hosp, who both won slaloms this season, also skied out.
Sara Hector of Sweden, who won a GS for her maiden victory last week, started in 61st position but placed ninth for her first top-10 finish in slalom.
There is one more slalom before the world championships — in Flachau, Austria, on Jan. 13.
Reigning women's world champion Hannah Kearney of the U.S., claimed gold in women's moguls. Montreal sisters Chloe and Justine Dufour-Lapointe took silver and bronze respectively.
The same women finished on the podium at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, this year, but in a different order. Justine and Chloe Dufour-Lapointe claimed gold and silver respectively with Kearney taking bronze in February.
The 28-year-old Kearney, who beat Canada's Jennifer Heil for Olympic gold in 2010, is expected to make the 2014-15 season her competitive swan song.
"I haven't made it an official announcement where it turned into some weird farewell tour with the whole emphasis on my past and things I'd done before," Kearney explained. "I'm still here to compete, but there's a 99 per cent chance I'll be retiring at the end of the season.
"My body felt really good at the end of last year and to be honest, the way the Olympics went it was hard to just hang it up after that. I still felt like I had something to prove. I know I don't, but bottom line is I still enjoy doing it."
Kearney and Chloe Dufour-Lapointe were tied atop the women's overall standings 55 points ahead of Justine, whose run of gold in Calgary ended after victories the last two years.
"My point of view is it's my first podium of the year," the 20-year-old said. "It's in my hometown, in Canada, so yes, I am happy.
"After the Olympic Games, you really understand that all of Canada supports you and that's why I'm so grateful to compete here and say it feels like my hometown."
Fresh snow overnight Friday provided material for well-defined moguls, but thickening cloud reduced visibility for Saturday's afternoon's finals. The skiers expended energy keeping their legs warm between runs as the temperature dipped below minus-20.
photo Getty Images
photo Getty Images