Mikaela Shiffrin takes slalom for third victory in three days

Eric Willemsen
The Associated Press
Mikaela Shiffrin reacts at finish line after winning an alpine ski, women's World Cup slalom in Semmering, Austria, Thursday, Dec. 29, 2016. (AP Photo/Giovanni Auletta)

SEMMERING, Austria — For once, even Olympic slalom champion Mikaela Shiffrin couldn’t believe what she had just achieved.

The American reacted by holding her right hand to her mouth in surprise after a spectacular final run in front of 13,500 spectators secured victory in a World Cup night slalom on Thursday.

Shiffrin managed to overcome several mistakes and a 0.33-second deficit at the last split time to produce a resounding winning margin of 0.64 seconds.

To make things even sweeter, it was her third World Cup triumph in as many days.

“Today was really crazy. It was a fight,” Shiffrin said. “I had a mistake and I knew I just had to keep going, going, going.”

Enjoying a slim opening-run lead, Shiffrin comfortably beat Veronika Velez Zuzulova of Slovakia, while Wendy Holdener of Switzerland was 1.54 seconds back in third.

Velez Zuzulova put Shiffrin under pressure with a strong second run, but the Slovak acknowledged “it was not enough, again.

“With Mikaela you never know what happens. I am getting close, but I still need more training,” said Velez Zuzulova, who has finished runner-up to the American for the past three slaloms.

After winning two giant slaloms the previous days, Shiffrin continued her dominance in slalom by landing her 23th career win in the discipline.

She has won all 12 World Cup slaloms she competed in since February 2015, having sat out five races with a right knee injury last season. That two-month layoff also cost her the season title in slalom, which she had won the previous three years.

To keep her winning streak running, Shiffrin had to overcome stomach problems.

She had been far from clean in her opening run, coming close to missing a gate twice and being 0.1 off the lead before finding enough speed in the bottom section to beat Velez Zuzulova by 0.09.

“I think I fought harder than any other run I’ve ever skied in slalom,” Shiffrin said, as she asked for a chair to sit down on while waiting in front of the leaderboard.

“The past races, it has been mostly nerves. When you get to the start, all of a sudden I get to feel really, really sick,” she said. “Today, actually, I am not sick but the past days I have been sick, so I wasn’t really sure if I was sick like you have the flu or sick because of nerves. I was OK for the second part of my runs, so then it’s good.”

With Thursday’s win, Shiffrin extended her lead in the overall standings to 215 points over defending champion Lara Gut of Switzerland, who usually doesn’t compete in slaloms.

Shiffrin’s feat of winning three races in three days is not unique. Lindsey Vonn has managed it on four occasions — at Haus im Ennstal in 2010, and at Lake Louise in 2011, 2012 and 2015.

Austrian great Annemarie Moser-Proell even won four races in three days in Grindelwald, Switzerland, in January 1975. Those races included a combined event, with the downhill portion also counting as a separate race.

Her 26th career win puts Shiffrin in shared 12th position — with Michela Figini of Switzerland and Tina Maze of Slovenia — on the all-time women’s race winners list, but leaves her still 50 wins short of Vonn’s record.

In the season’s slalom standings, Shiffrin leads with the maximum 400 points, 110 clear of Velez Zuzulova and 140 ahead of Holdener.

The women’s World Cup continues with three more technical events — a slalom in Zagreb, Croatia, on Tuesday, followed by a GS and slalom in Maribor, Slovenia, at the week’s end.