Shiffrin Maintains Overall Lead, O’Brien Career-Best 11th in Controversial PGS Debut
The parallel giant slalom made its debut on the women's FIS Ski World Cup circuit today in Sestriere, Italy, where current overall leader Mikaela Shiffrin extended her lead in the overall despite landing in ninth, and Nina O’Brien finished a career-best 11th place.
Mikaela had the fastest time in the morning’s parallel giant slalom qualifier, followed by Switzerland’s Wendy Holdener and Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova. Nina had the ninth-fastest qualifier time heading into the race. After the qualifier, all indications were leading to a battle between Mikaela, Wendy and Petra. However, in an unexpected turn of events, all three of the favorites were beaten—Petra in the 1/16 final to Swiss Aline Danioth, and then Mikaela and Wendy both in the 1/8 finals.
France’s Clara Direz—who beat Mikaela in the 1/8 final, skied fast and strong all day, going on to snag her first World Cup podium and victory, while Austria’s Eliza Moerzinger was second, and Italy’s Marta Bassino rounded out the podium in third. Three Italians were in the top five, with Marta Bassino beating teammate Federica Brignone in the small final and Sofia Goggia finishing fifth.
The results stirred up some controversy about the fairness of the event, with social media erupting after the race and fans expressing frustration with not only the fairness of the event but the change in event format as well. In parallel races in past seasons, the qualification run results did not carry through to the round of 32. Once athletes qualified, they were seeded according to World Cup Start List (WCSL) ranking. Then, the better-ranked skier got to pick their course for each single-run (or knockout) round. In City Event parallel races, there were two runs in each round, rather than this knockout round format.
Though she said it’s unbelievable and was excited to win the first-ever parallel giant slalom on the calendar, Saturday’s victor Clara admitted she is not sure how fair the event really is. “I don’t know if it’s really really fair or not,” she said. I’ve been lucky today because I was always on the blue course for the last runs, so I’ve been a little bit lucky. So I won’t complain about that. I’m pretty happy about winning today my first World Cups, so I won’t say something bad about that, but yeah.”
In all single-elimination heats, only three skiers ever won from the red course, while 17 won on the blue course. Additionally, in the quarterfinals, one out of eight women (Sofia) won on the red course. In the round of 32, Mikaela was .42 seconds faster on the blue course, Wendy .32 seconds faster on the blue course, and Federica .38 faster on the blue course. Never one to complain and always diplomatic, Mikaela said she likes the event and thinks it has potential for viewers and TV, but admitted it could use some refinement.
“This is the first parallel GS we’ve had, and it is fun—I think I like the parallel GS more than the parallel slalom, but it’s a little bit difficult,” she explained after Saturday’s race. “There’s still a lot of work we have to do, and FIS has to do, to really make the race as even as it can be…there’s always a faster course, but today it’s like they’re not even the same course at all. Especially in the last four or five gates on the blue course, you can even see just looking up the hill, that it’s straighter than the red course.”
Mikaela continued, “I don’t normally talk about luck playing a role in the results, even yesterday being .01 out, I feel like that was in my control, especially in the first run. But today I would say it’s a day where luck really plays a role so you just have to take it and be OK…all in all, it is fun and I think people like to watch it—it’s just a work in progress to make the event the best it can be. This event is still in its infancy, it is fun and I see the appeal and excitement, but it’s just how it is. I wasn’t the one to make the red course work today, but there are a couple of girls who are doing that really well, so they’re going to have a really nice race.”
Nina skied strong in the qualification Saturday morning, and carried the strong skiing through to the race, scoring a career-best 11th place. In the first qualification run, Nina was second behind Mikaela, by just .05 seconds. Despite the fact that Austria’s Katharina Huber was ahead after the first run in the round of 32, Nina kept her wits about her and ended up moving onward to qualify for the 1/8 finals. Tina Robnik of Slovenia beat Nina by just .01 seconds in the 1/8 final and did not move forward to the quarterfinals. “I’m really happy to be leaving Sestriere with an 11th place and personal best,” she said after the race.” It felt really good to put some of my best skiing out there today. I love the competitive aspect of parallel, and I finally felt like I rose to the challenge today. It’s always a little tough to lose by one hundredth, but I left it all on the hill and I’m happy with my skiing.”
Keely Cashman and AJ Hurt also started but did not qualify for the round of 32. AJ Hurt finished the qualification round just outside of the 32. Mikaela maintains, and in fact extends her lead slightly in the overall standings, with 975 points to Petra’s 726. Federica closed the gap in third to a mere 15 points, with 715 points.
Up next for the women is a speed series in Bansko, Bulgaria, including two downhill races—including a rescheduled race from Val d’Isere, France—and one super-G. Mikaela is planning to head to Bansko for the series, “I’m excited...I’ve never been to Bansko. It sounds like it’s a fairly technical slope, so it should be really fun, and I’m looking forward to it.
HOW TO WATCH
All Times EST
Sunday, Jan. 19
5:00 p.m. - Men’s downhill, Wengen, SUI - NBC**
8:00 p.m. - Women’s parallel giant slalom, Sestriere, ITA - NBCSN*
9:00 p.m. - Men’s slalom, Wengen, SUI - NBCSN*
Note: All televised events to stream across NBCSports.com, NBC Sports app, OlympicChannel.com, and Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA app.
Exclusive commercial-free coverage will be available for subscribers of the NBC Sports Gold Pass, available here: https://www.nbcsports.com/gold/snow.