Mikaela Shiffrin is on a roll. This was win number five in the Slalom World Cup in a row for the twenty-year-old American. After setting a World Record for the biggest winning margin the previous day, Shiffrin felt that she would not be able to win by such a huge margin again anytime soon. The challenge was on for the rest of the field to make it harder for her. In race two in Aspen, Frida Hansdotter and Sarka Strachova joined her on the podium, but the margin was still large, 2.65 seconds between first and second. This result was fourth on the all-time list of biggest winning margins.
Why is Shiffrin so much faster than the rest of the field. Last year Frida Hansdotter pushed the American all the way for the World Cup Slalom title. This year she is leading the way against the Olympic, World and World Cup slalom champion. Such domination has not been seen since Janica Kostellic won the first eight of the nine World Cup Slaloms in 2001. Sonja Nef won the World Cup Finals race that year to blot Kostelic’s 100% record. Vreni Schneider holds the record for that with seven wins from seven in 1988 – 1989.
Marlies Schild holds the record of number of career wins in Slalom with 35. Shiffrin currently (at the time of writing) has 16 and ranks sixth on the all-time list. She is only twenty years old.
If you watch Shiffrin’s runs from Aspen you can see she is so much smoother in the turn than her rivals. From the moment that she instigates the turn, Shiffrin is carving the turn. Many of her rivals will slide into the turn, some more than others. It is this extra carve that amounts up over the length of the course. Sure she may have been aided by the US Ski Team coaches setting the opening run in Aspen but the course was the same for all the racers.
After the race Shiffrin explained: “I just tried to do a replay of yesterday,” said Shiffrin. “I was like ‘forget that yesterday happened and just do the exact same’. I just did the same thing and it worked, so that is good.”
Shiffrin is a determined and dedicated racer. She puts in the hours doing drills, fitness training and making sure that everything is right for her. If something is not right for her programme, then no amount of money put in front of her will change her mind. She is a sponsor’s dream. Having the ex-Austrian racer Killian Albrecht managing her career is another master stroke. Albrecht knows how to work the system and takes the pressure off her.
Can Shiffrin emulate the records set by Schneider and Kostelic in a season? There is no reason why not. Both Ligety and Hirscher have won races by huge amounts one week and the following they have been back in the pack so it will not be easy. Shiffrin is not one to rest on her laurels yet is also very gracious to her competitors. Sure she was bummed in crashing out three gates from home in the Giant Slalom in Aspen, she put all her effort into the slalom to ease the frustration.
For Hansdotter, Veronica Velez-Zuzulova, Strachova and the rest of the girls slalom field, seeing Shiffrin win by so much two days in a row must be soul destroying. The bar has been raised and they now need to go back to the training hill and work out how they can catch up. Shiffrin will not rest on her laurels that is for sure.
Ski racing is tough. Some racers raised their game in the second run: Carmen Thalmann, after seeing her Austrian colleagues of failing to post a racer in the top ten for the first time in 55 races on day one, raised her game to race into fifth from eleventh after the first run, still 3.64 seconds off the win and three-quarters of a second off the podium.
Shiffrin has raised the bar. Now it is up to the rest of the field to raise their game.
Picture: Mikaela Shiffrin – Credit Zoom Agence, all rights reserved