Mikaela Shiffrin’s GS victory slips away in Aspen
December 10, 2015
Close. So close.
Just two gates.
Mikaela Shiffrin had victory and history in her grasp Friday afternoon in Aspen, charging to an apparent win in the World Cup giant slalom.
But Shiffrin leaned in between the second and third gates from the finish line, slipping down on her side as she lost her edge and watched victory slip away on the lower slopes of Aspen Mountain.
The 20-year-old ski racer from Eagle-Vail was bidding to become the first American woman to win a World Cup race in Aspen since 1981.
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Tamara McKinney, that American skier who won in Aspen in 1981, was even on hand to present Shiffrin with her Winternational victory medal in Aspen.
Now, McKinney will have to wait at least one more day.
Shiffrin will race in the World Cup slalom today at Aspen Mountain, again chasing an elusive victory on American snow. Another slalom is set for Sunday.
Switzerland's Lara Gut, with a dynamic second run, benefited from Shiffrin's slip and won Friday's giant slalom in front of a huge crowd in the finish area at the base of Lift 1A.
Eva-Marie Brem of Austria, who won the giant slalom last year in Aspen, finished second Friday. She posted the fastest second run of the day (1:02.20) to finish in a combined 2:02.61. Gut's combined time was 2:02.51.
Frederica Brignone of Italy, who finished second in Aspen last year, was third this year with 2:02.85.
Shiffrin, who had posted the fastest time on the tricky first run (59.04), said she did not have the same rhythm in the second run, which featured diminishing light and falling snow.
"I felt kind of scrappy that run. I definitely didn't feel great," Shiffrin said. "But I was fighting really hard, and I'm proud of that."
She said that normally when she doesn't feel good, "I kind of take my foot off the gas and lose a lot of time. I felt like I was charging. And then, two gates from the finish, I was like, 'Oh my god, I can't believe I made it this far.'"
"And you should never, ever think that because immediately something bad will happen," she said.
Shiffrin slipped just as the cheering crowd had reached its crescendo.
Instantly, a hush fell over the fans — much like the hush earlier Friday when Vail's Lindsey Vonn, the most decorated female ski racer in history, lost a ski on a turn and was a first-run did-not-finish.
Vonn, with a record 67 World Cup wins, stayed in the finish area and signed autographs and posed for photos with Aspen Winternational fans.
The tricky first set on the GS, from the French coaches, included a pair of challenging turns — coming onto Summer Road and a fallaway turn off of Summer Road onto Strawpile.
Shiffrin, Brem, Brignone, Gut and France's Tessa Worley all navigated the treachery of Summer Road with ease on the opening run.
The second run's gates were set by the Austrian coaches, with Shiffrin, Brem and Gut again mastering the decisive sections around Summer Road.
"You have to push hard from the start," Gut said after her first World Cup victory in Aspen. "It's a tough course."
Gut, who made an equipment change to Head skis in the summer, said she is happy to be off to a fast start this season after struggling last year.
"Last year, nothing worked," Gut said, adding that she finished 24th in the giant slalom standings. "You don't train all summer to be 24th."
After taking a fourth in the opening giant slalom of the year in Soelden, Austria, Gut picked up the victory Friday in Aspen.
"I'm happy my GS turn is back," Gut said. "The pieces of the puzzle are coming together."
Gut said the Shiffrin slip near the finish was unlike Shiffrin.
"It was more like me," Gut said. "Mikaela doesn't make mistakes like that."
Brem, who has taken over as the leader of the Austrian giant slalom team after the season-ending injury to World Cup overall winner Anna Fenninger, said she was really disappointed after her first run Friday.
She said her second run also started bad — 10 gates bad.
"That was not me," she said. "Then, I just let go. The last half of the second run was … like last year."
She said she skis better when she goes for it and attacks, like Shiffrin does.
"(Shiffrin) was going for the victory, and she skied out," Brem said. "That's how it goes."
The World Cup skiers will return to Aspen Mountain today for the first of two slalom races.
Start time for the first run today is 10:15 a.m. The second run is scheduled for 1:15 p.m., weather and course condition permitting.
"I'm really excited to start the slalom season, see how I stack up," said Shiffrin, the three-time reigning World Cup slalom champion. "Take the same tactics as (Friday). … My mentality was good, and I was going for it. There's a lot to take away from the day. Just have to make sure I stay smart to the finish."