Shiffrin Third in Ultra Tight Sestriere Giant Slalom
Under the sunshine in Sestriere, Italy, Mikaela Shiffrin was third Saturday in a giant slalom where just .01—that's one-hundredth of a second—separated three women. Italy's Federica Brignone and Slovakia's Petra Vlhova tied for first.
Mikaela's fourth-fastest first run was a "little sloppy," as she said, and she sat .42 seconds out going into the second run. But, she skied a solid second run, .23 faster than anyone else, which gave her something to smile about after the last couple of weeks. "The second run I was more aggressive and cleaner with my skiing, so I was happy with that," she reflected. "But, in the end, when it's .01 seconds and the two girls ahead were tied for first, I'm like...arghhhh...well, that's how it goes. That's ski racing."
In a challenging and deep women's giant slalom field, five different women from five different nations have stood on the top step of the podium—New Zealand's Alice Robinson in Soelden, Austria, Italy's Marta Bassino in Killington, Vt., Federica in Courchevel, France, Mikaela in Lienz, Austria, and now Federica and Petra in Sestriere. For certain, the level of women's giant slalom is increasing, and to Mikaela, that's fun and motivating to see.
"I said this almost every race last year. It's not easy," Mikaela said. "It is never easy to win and you can ask Fede and Petra—it wasn't like they just skied down, had a nice Sunday drive and won the race...they were both skiing really hard and really well, and that's why they ended up ahead. For me, last year, that happened a lot, but it was never easy. It's motivating to have so many athletes that are able to be on the top this year, but it's also not something I didn't expect. Everyone is motivated, everyone wants to win, and I think the most exciting thing for me is that people have stopped asking me, 'Are you unbeatable?' I feel like we're all racing and it's just normal now."
When your "normal" is 11 podiums in 15 starts with four victories, it's a good thing. And that's the case for Mikaela. Last year, in a record season with 17 World Cup victories that may never be topped, she acknowledges that she was on the right side of the hundredths many times.
"I know, especially last season, I had the lucky side of the hundredths many times, so sometimes I’m not going to be on the lucky side, too," she said. "For me, giant slalom has always been the most difficult event to find my timing and my technique, because you have to be pushing 100% super aggressive with the line and with how you’re skiing, but also really precise with the technique. It can be really challenging to find the balance between those two, and it’s so easy to lose the time if you’re not going as hard as you can. Right now, a lot of the athletes have a pretty good idea of what that balance needs to be. That means different winners, and everybody’s hungry."
The ongoing rivalry between Mikaela and Petra has become a main topic on the FIS Ski World Cup circuit and is arguably the most exciting storyline the sport currently has. Even so, Mikaela is quick to point out the respect she has for her rival. “One of the things I respect the most about Petra is she has a really disciplined, great style of skiing…but she does—and she did—the work to come out on top," she commented. "There aren’t many athletes who have been willing to do that, so the last years I’ve been able to stay on top, maybe because I was doing more work or smarter work, or something. So it does feel a little bit like I have to find something new [to get back on top], but also I just have to get my feeling in slalom back. It wasn’t there in Zagreb...and in Flachau, too – I skied the best I could that day, but I know it’s not the best I could ski. She was able to win because she did the work, so I am looking forward to doing better work.”
After narrowly making the flip, tied for 30th in the first run, Nina O'Brien went on to ski two solid runs and finish 29th. This is the third time this season she's scored World Cup giant slalom points. AJ Hurt, Keely Cashman, and Paula Moltzan also started in Saturday's giant slalom but did not qualify for a second run.
Mikaela still has a commanding lead in the overall title race, with 946 points—233 points ahead of Petra, and 281 points ahead of Federica. The hardest part to swallow about a third-place finish by a mere .01 is that it's the sizable difference between 100 points and 60 points, and though it's 60 more points for Mikaela, she now trails Federica in the giant slalom standings by 61 points. It'll be tough with how strong Federica is in the discipline, but there are still three more giant slaloms on the World Cup calendar and anything is possible.
Up next, the Land Rover U.S. Alpine Ski Team athletes take on a parallel giant slalom on Sunday, in the event's FIS Ski World Cup debut on the women's circuit. When asked about whether or not she'll find revenge tomorrow with rival Petra, Mikaela answered, "I don’t normally ski with revenge. I don’t have this sort of vindictive personality. Tomorrow is a new day, and it’s a new opportunity and I’m really looking forward to racing and we’ll see what happens. I’m just going to do my best, try to bring a little bit more fire and go for it."
Women's Giant Slalom
HOW TO WATCH
All Times EST
Saturday, Jan. 18
5:00 p.m. - Women’s giant slalom, Sestriere, ITA - NBC*
8:00 p.m. - Men’s downhill, Wengen, SUI - NBCSN*
9:00 p.m. - Women’s giant slalom, Sestriere, ITA - NBCSN*
Sunday, Jan. 19
3:45 a.m. - Women’s parallel giant slalom qualifying, Sestriere, ITA - NBC Sports Gold
4:15 a.m. - Men’s slalom run 1, Wengen, SUI - Olympic Channel.com, NBC Sports Gold
5:30 a.m. - Women’s parallel giant slalom, Sestriere, ITA - Olympic Channel, Olympic Channel.com, NBC Sports Gold
7:00 a.m. - Men’s slalom run 2, Wengen, SUI - Olympic Channel, Olympic Channel.com, NBC Sports Gold
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.