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Shiffrin Leads Three Americans into Top 30 at Flachau Night Race

By Courtney Harkins
January, 14 2020
Mikaela Shiffrin Flachau
Mikaela Shiffrin takes third in the Flachau night slalom. (Getty Images/Agence Zoom - Christophe Pallot)

On a chilly night in Flachau, Austria, Mikaela Shiffrin captured her 16th-straight FIS Ski World Cup slalom podium—a World Cup record—finishing in third place under the lights.

Proving a worthy adversary to Mikaela, Petra Vlhova of Slovakia won her second World Cup slalom in a row and captured the title of Snow Space Salzburg Princess and the biggest prize purse on the FIS World Cup women’s tour. Anna Swenn Larsson of Sweden surprised the crowd and herself by finishing second with a blazing fast second run—a redeeming race for her after last year when she thought she had secured third place before realizing she had straddled. 

In front of an Austrian crowd packed with a hefty and loud Slovakian fan club, Petra put down a flying first run to take the lead by .60 seconds over Mikaela. And even with a fast second run by Mikaela and a course set by her coach Mike Day, Petra couldn’t be caught.

One thing that Mikaela wanted to make evident was that her coach did not set the second run course for Mikaela’s benefit or to trip up Petra. “I think everybody was thinking that he would set a course against Petra,” Mikaela said in the press conference after the race. “I wanted to be clear about this and maybe the most important thing: We don’t do that; we don’t play those games. I think it’s bad karma.”

This was Petra’s second win in Flachau—having beat Mikaela in last year’s night race, as well. “When you look at Petra, she’s skiing just perfect right now,” said Mikaela. “Even if she makes some mistakes, her mistakes are smaller than everyone else and her better turns are better than everyone else. That includes me.”

For a long time, Mikaela went unbeaten on the World Cup. But she has done her job in raising the bar, and now that the competition has stepped up, it’s making for a thrilling fight on the highest level in skiing. There are still four World Cup slaloms left on the tour and it’s going to be a battle for the overall globe between the many female powerhouses on the FIS World Cup tour. “The way I’ve been on top with my skiing for all these years is because I did more work, harder work and stronger work than everyone else,” said Mikaela. “I worked smarter. I could come to the races and I had to push, I knew that, but I worked hard enough that confidence wasn’t a factor. I could ski even when I wasn’t confident and my good skiing would be enough. Right now, it’s difficult to balance everything—to balance what I want to accomplish in the sport with everything and still be able to stay on top going against girls who are working really hard.”

Land Rover U.S. Alpine Ski Team athletes Paula Moltzan and Nina O’Brien snagged points in the race, as well, taking 23rd and 29th, respectively. Paula, who compared Flachau to her home turf of Buck Hill, said it was like skiing in her backyard. “It’s what I grew up on—skiing at night,” she said. “That’s all I really knew growing up, so it’s like a like piece of my heart is here. The only thing missing—and it's a vital component—is Erich Sailer.”

As far as her results, Paula was happy to have her first World Cup points of the new year, even with a few mistakes. “Obviously the major mistake on the 10th gate on the second run was not it, but I made up time on the way down, so I know the speed is there,” she said. “I’m looking forward to some time at home and then some more slalom racing later this year.”

Nina felt similarly about the race being a good confidence-boost, even with a hip check on the second run. “Overall, I’m really happy about the day,” she said. “I feel like I showed myself on the first run that I can be in there and that my good skiing is fast, which is nice to see because it’s been a bit of a struggle with slalom on the World Cup this year. I still have a lot to learn. My second run wasn’t it, but we’ll get there.”

In only her fifth World Cup start, Katie Hensien did not qualify for a second run but is looking strong and ready for more opportunities.

Mikaela was quick to commend her Land Rover U.S. Alpine Ski Team teammates, as well. “Solid team result and I’m really happy for the other girls—Nina and Paula fought hard tonight to make it in there,” she said. “Three in the top 30 is awesome. We’re all heading to Sestriere together tomorrow, and I’m looking forward to switching gears and skiing some giant slalom.”

Mikaela’s third-place finish in Flachau kept her strongly in first place in the overall hunt over Petra with 886 points to Petra’s 613 points. She also leads the slalom hunt over Petra by 80 points.

Next up, the women's tech crew will travel together in a helicopter over to Sestriere, Italy for a giant slalom on Saturday and a parallel giant slalom Sunday.

Women’s Slalom