Schild, Shiffrin shine in slalom at Aspen Winternational | AspenTimes.com

Schild, Shiffrin shine in slalom at Aspen Winternational

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Mikaela Shiffrin, of the United States, passes a gate during the women's World Cup slalom ski competition in Aspen, Colo., on Sunday, Nov. 27, 2011. (AP Photo/Nathan Bilow)

ASPEN – Mikaela Shiffrin exchanged a few words with U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association CEO Bill Marolt on Sunday, then politely excused herself.

“I have to watch,” the Eagle-Vail skier uttered as she circled uphill and fixed her eyes on the Jumbotron.

Moments after Austrian racer Marlies Schild surged across the finish line to clinch a resounding 1.19-second Aspen Winternational slalom victory and a 30th World Cup title, Shiffrin grinned and shook her head.

The precocious 16-year-old’s performance likely prompted similar reactions from those who packed the base of Aspen Mountain.

Shiffrin shined on this sun-drenched afternoon. One day after teammate Julia Mancuso’s bronze-medal showing in giant slalom snapped a nearly seven-year U.S. podium drought here, the high school student proved she is a quick study. She overcame some early nerves, completed two clean runs and finished eighth in just her fourth World Cup start.

“All I can say is this is unreal,” Shiffrin exclaimed afterward. “I’ll for sure be excited for the next five months.”

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Schild likely was stewing for 12 months after a forgettable performance in last year’s Aspen slalom, when she missed the first gate and was disqualified.

The technical-disciplines standout appeared motivated Sunday. Despite clipping her chin on a pole, Schild laid down a blistering, mistake-free first run to post a time of 51.24 seconds – .78 seconds better than Winternational podium regular Tanja Poutiainen of Finland.

“That maybe happens once and never again,” Schild said of last November’s blunder.

“This is a very tough course in Aspen. It’s not easy from the start until the finish – you have to work all the way down. … Every race is difficult to win – it doesn’t matter. I try not to look [at how far I’m ahead] and try to do my best to ski good.”

Schild, a five-time podium finisher here, posted the fastest second run for good measure to comfortably best 2010 race winner Maria Pietilae-Holmner of Sweden.

Reigning World Cup overall champion Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany wound up third, 1.96 seconds back.

“Yeah, [Schild is] skiing really good. I think leaving her with [a .83-second advantage after Run 1], it’s too much. Then I can’t do anything when she’s doing this good,” Pietilae-Holmner said. “There are more races coming, and I will try to beat her for sure.”

More than a win, Hoefl-Riesch was eager to generate some confidence and jump-start her season following disappointing results in Sölden, Austria, and in Saturday’s GS, when she crashed during her second run.

Two solid runs and a bronze medal should help as the scene shifts to Lake Louise, Alberta, next weekend.

“Of course after two bad races my confidence is not at a really high level,” she said. “I’m really happy and proud how I managed today.”

Shiffrin could say the same thing. Before stepping into the start gate, the usually poised youngster spent much of the morning battling nerves.

“I told you guys [Saturday] that I don’t get nervous, but I was nervous today,” she admitted. “My mom was sitting with me the whole morning saying, ‘You know how to ski; you know how to ski. Just do it. It’s going to be fine, there’s no pressure.’ I just didn’t believe it and started doubting what I could do.

“I was trying to breathe deeply at the start, and the further I got down, I started believing. Down here, that was some of he best skiing I’ve had all year so far.”

Teammate Sarah Schleper agreed.

“I’m so excited for her,” the U.S. Ski Team veteran said minutes after going too straight through a gate during her first run, getting tossed off course and finishing well out of contention for a second straight day.

“I was like, ‘OK, now that your day’s over, let’s be excited about your teammates and really support them. … [Shiffrin is] a thinker, so I wanted to just remind her that she can do it. Her skiing is good enough that she doesn’t have to worry about anything.”

Shiffrin proved that in the afternoon. The lone American to qualify for a second run (Lindsey Vonn was a late scratch because of lingering back pain), Shiffrin appeared comfortable and confident as she attacked the undulating course.

When she crossed the finish and skidded to a stop, Shiffrin found herself in second place.

“I was a lot less nervous, no nerves at all. That first [run] was hard to handle. That second run was a lot better,” she said. “I just wanted to ski my best. I always want to win, but it’s going to take a while for that. … [I’m] trying not to think about it, trying my best to keep moving forward. I still have a long ways to go, but this is a great accomplishment.”

Hoefl-Riesch certainly took notice.

“[Shiffrin] has great technique and a good head obviously, because she had some pressure here because it was a home race for her and she managed that,” Hoefl-Riesch said.

“I think we will hear from her lots of times in the future.”

jmaletz@aspentimes.com

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