Merryweather Top 25 while Shiffrin DNFs in Altenmarkt-Zauchensee Combined
The main topic of discussion in Altenmarkt-Zauchensee on Sunday was the fact that the two biggest names on the FIS Ski World Cup women’s circuit—Mikaela Shiffrin and Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova—both DNFed in the alpine combined. The best news, of course, is that they are both OK.
While Alice Merryweather led the Land Rover U.S. Alpine Ski Team in 23rd, the favorite coming into Sunday’s alpine combined, Mikaela Shiffrin, caught an edge and then went into a bumpy turn a little off-balance and tried to recover, but wasn’t able to pull it off. She DNFed, but she skied out of it and was OK. Running bib 11, Petra hit the bumpiest spot of the turn where the snow was starting to turn soft, and her ski came off.
Italy went 1-2 with Federica Brignone the fastest woman of the day, followed by countrywoman Marta Bassino, .22 seconds back, and Switzerland’s Wendy Holdener, .50 off the pace in third.
The Altenmarkt-Zauchensee track is a technical speed track, and the set was a technical set, favoring tech skiers. When all was said and done, after the super-G, there were 16 DNFs among the 47 starters—34% of the field. DNFs included some of the best speed skiers in the world, such as Slovenia’s Ilka Stuhec, Germany’s Viktoria Rebensburg, and Switzerland’s Michelle Gisin—also a favorite, and the PyeongChang Olympic alpine combined gold medalist.
“Just before the turn where I leaned inside, there were two turns where there were some small piles of snow,” Mikaela reflected. “The surface is amazing the whole course, but it was just those two turns that had little bumps, nothing crazy, but I went into one turn and I caught my edge a bit, then going into the big turn with the compression I was just really off-balance and I tried a recovery turn on that one, but I wasn’t over the outside enough, so I just fell over."
Thankfully, Mikaela was alright and skied away from the crash, which is an uncharacteristic result from one of the most consistent skiers on the World Cup circuit. In fact, her last DNF was on January 28, 2018, in Lenzerheide, Switzerland. “It was not a very exciting crash, but that’s OK for me,” she joked in the finish. "I was really looking forward to skiing the whole course—I was really excited to ski that turn and see how it felt. I almost made it all the way through that turn, but the bottom of the course looked really nice and a little bit of a challenge too, which is always exciting. The slalom looked like it would be really nice to ski, so it’s always a bummer when the day’s cut short like that, but that’s ski racing.”
Mikaela stood by her decision not to start in Saturday’s downhill, despite the fact that it would have given her a chance to experience this new track prior to coming into the super-G portion of Sunday’s alpine combined. For her, the chance to get some quality tech training in heading into Tuesday night’s slalom in Flachau, Austria and next weekend’s giant slalom and parallel giant slalom in Sestriere, Italy, was highly valuable.
“I think that it was much better for me to have those days for a little bit of training,” Mikaela said after her run. “I think the only turn where it really would have helped me was the one that I fell on. I was going into it off-balance and I know that the good position will make fast skiing, and I wasn’t really in a good position on that turn. Better skiing would have helped me more than doing the actual downhill.”
With 380 points, Mikaela will take a 120-point lead in the slalom standings into Tuesday's night slalom in Flachau, over Petra (260). As far as her game plan going into Tuesday, nothing really changes after Sunday’s DNF, aside from getting the chance to rest a bit more on Sunday and then “take the same sort of mentality I always have,” she says, “trying to put my best skiing out there and we’ll see what happens.”
Of course, the biggest story in the sport at the moment is the Mikaela-Petra rivalry. It’s a healthy rivalry with two competitors who have mutual respect for each other. “It’s a good duel with us,” Mikaela said. “She feels the pressure from me and I feel the pressure from her, too - and that’s exciting for people to watch. Definitely, for us, we’re always trying to raise our own level and just keep pushing—so Flachau should be a good race.”
Does Mikaela like the idea of the rivalry with Petra, and the fact that the media is building it up? “Well, I don’t really have the choice,” she laughed. “No matter how many points ahead you are, and even if you’re two seconds ahead in the race, for everybody watching that looks like a lot—but for you, as the person in that position, it never feels like a lot. You don’t feel safe until it’s true...until the globes are secured or the race is secured. I was ahead in Lienz, and then I was over a second behind in Zagreb—that time can go away so fast, so you never feel very safe with it. So that way, I always feel like I have big rivals, even if I am ahead.” It’s not over until it’s over. It is only January, after all, and there are still many races between now and World Cup Finals in March.
Speaking of the overall race, Mikaela retains the World Cup overall lead with 826 points, followed by Federica—who moved up to second ahead of Petra—with 565 points, and Petra in third with 513 points.
For Alice Merryweather, who has struggled with the last couple of races, this was a positive step in the right direction. “It was the most fun I had this week, so that’s what I’m going to take from it,” she said after the race. She and the women’s speed team will enjoy a solid training block prior to heading over to Bansko, Bulgaria in two weeks.
Up next for the women is a night slalom in Flachau, Austria on Tuesday evening, where the Land Rover U.S. Alpine Ski Team will have a full slalom squad once again.
Women’s Alpine Combined
Official event hashtag: #zauchensee
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