Petra Vlhova pulls stunning upset, edges Mikaela Shiffrin on final slalom run
Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova played spoiler in Saturday’s World Cup Finals women’s slalom race in Aspen, edging fan favorite Mikaela Shiffrin on the final run for the win.
Vail’s Shiffrin, who clinched the slalom globe last week with her win at Squaw Valley, California, had a 0.11 second lead on Sweden’s Frida Hansdotter for first with only Vlhova to race.
But Vlhova, who led after the first run, was masterful over the final split, which is usually where Shiffrin dominates. Vlhova finished with a two-run combined time of 1 minute, 32 seconds, while Shiffrin finished 0.24 back. Hansdotter took third.
“We are a small country, but we are strong. For our country it’s a special moment,” Vlhova said. “I want to win every race. I want to be on the podium and I want to be fast. Today was my day and I’m really happy.”
Vlhova, 21, won for only the second time in her World Cup career. Her only previous win came in a Dec. 13, 2015 slalom in Are, Sweden. Her most recent podium came in a Jan. 3 slalom in Zagreb, Croatia, where she took second. She failed to finish the slalom last week in Squaw Valley.
“You could see the tear coming down her eyes,” Shiffrin said of Vlhova. “I know that feeling, and it’s so special when anybody feels that. Everybody has a bad day on some races and it’s cool to see it when somebody has a good day.”
Vlhova had the best first run in Saturday’s slalom, finishing in 45.52 seconds. Hansdotter was second in 45.55 seconds, and Shiffrin third in 45.59 seconds.
The second run was intense, with skier after skier temporarily taking the lead, only to be jumped a racer or two later.
A skier before Shiffrin, Slovakia’s Veronika Velez Zuzulova had a second-run time of 46.80 seconds to vault into the lead. Then Shiffrin, with a packed grandstand cheering her on, put down a near flawless second run of 46.65 seconds and it seemed the storybook ending was complete.
Second to last to go, Hansdotter came in .11 seconds back of Shiffrin and into second place, leaving only Vlhova remaining to upset the American.
“Today was a really tough day because it was too warm,” Vlhova said. “This victory I needed because after Squaw Valley I was a little bit sad because I know I am fast, but sometimes I do some mistakes and if you want to win you have to ski without mistake.”
There was no room for mistakes in Vlhova’s final run Saturday, and she didn’t make any. Her and Shiffrin were essentially neck and neck entering the bottom of the course, where Vlhova stepped on the gas pedal to finish her second run in 46.48 seconds, .17 faster than Shiffrin.
“I wouldn’t call today a bad day,” Shiffrin said. “I was disappointed with some of my skiing and also happy with some of my skiing. A second place is never bad.”
The final women’s World Cup race of the season is Sunday’s giant slalom. The globe is still up for grabs as France’s Tessa Worley is leading Shiffrin by 80 points in the discipline. Worley has never won a globe in any discipline, while Shiffrin has never won a globe in giant slalom.
“I think I have strength still, it’s just always difficult at the end of the season,” Shiffrin said. “But I feel good and I’m really excited for tomorrow.”
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Buttermilk Ski Area already is scheduled to host the world’s best at ESPN’s X Games this coming week, while it was recently announced Aspen Highlands will host alpine skiing’s NorAm finals later this spring.