Mikaela Shiffrin wins fifth straight World Cup to claim 81st-career win

Edwards skier is one behind Lindsey Vonn with another slalom on Thursday

Ryan Sederquist
Vail Daily

CROATIA — For the last four seasons, Petra Vlhova has won the first World Cup race of the calendar year. On Wednesday in Zagreb, Croatia, however, it was Mikaela Shiffrin who revealed her first New Year’s resolution: start 2023 with a win. 

The 27-year-old Edwards superstar inched one step closer to becoming the all-time winningest World Cup Alpine skier, using a first-run lead to gap the field and flawlessly managing the deteriorating Crveni spust course in run No. 2 to win her fifth-straight World Cup and 81st in her once-in-a-generation career.

“I felt really solid today,” she told reporters in a post-race press conference. “I had a good plan and I wasn’t holding back or (was) scared of something on the course. I just tried to push everywhere.”

Shiffrin’s total time was 1 minute, 36.42 seconds, 0.76 seconds ahead of Vlhova (1:37.18) in second as Sweden’s Anna Swenn-Larsson (1:37.63) rounded out the podium. The victory puts her one behind Lindsey Vonn (82), who wished Shiffrin a Happy New Year and said she was excited to watch the races, and five behind Ingemar Stenmark (86).

“I’m incredibly happy. I had so much fun skiing today and it was really my best skiing — both runs,” the American said on the broadcast immediately after winning her fifth race in Zagreb (and first on the Croatian hill since 2019), tied with Marcel Hirscher for the most by any athlete.

With temperatures hovering around 4 degrees Celsius, the compact snow softened and slowed throughout the second run, especially in the middle section of the 182-meter drop. The conditions were such that great skiing, particularly by the later starters, was not always rewarded and great starts were marred by terrible second sectors. Seven athletes DNF’d their second runs, evidence of the slippery snow. 

“Everything was quite difficult, but I didn’t feel at risk, and that’s important,” said Shiffrin. “If I felt it was really dangerous, naturally I hold back a bit.”

“It’s an outdoor sport and it’s really warm everywhere at the moment so we had to do our best and can’t focus too much on the conditions, but of course you wish it was better for everybody,” added Swenn-Larsson.

The unpredictable conditions made for some interesting drama, however, as Wendy Holdener made a strong bid for her third slalom win of the season with five skiers remaining. Katherina Liensberger looked to replicate the Swiss veteran’s aggressive skiing, and had everything set up for a fantastic finish when she slipped just meters from the end. The Austrian was able to recover, climb back around the final gate, and limp to the line in 23rd.

Up next was Vlhova, who hasn’t won a slalom since taking three straight in Lienz, Zagreb and Kranjska-Gora in December of 2021 and January of 2022. The Slovak started slow, but was composed in the middle and smooth at the bottom to slide into the lead by 0.62 seconds.

Swenn-Larsson’s late mistakes eliminated the possibility of a win, but the two-time Olympian, who claimed her first World Cup in Killington this past November, was satisfied to secure a podium, sliding right behind Vlhova and bumping Holdener out of the top-3, with Shiffrin waiting in the gate. The Swede told reporters that her resilient performance was reminiscent of her win in Vermont.

“I had mistakes but still fought to the finish; I did it as well today,” she compared, adding that she knows she’ll need to be even sharper to contend with Vlhova and Shiffrin.

“They’re almost never doing mistakes, so I need to improve that to be up there battling, but for sure I know I can beat them.”

Shiffrin said later that in-between runs, she was thinking “I could win today, but I also might not.”

“And either way, I’m ok with that, as long as I push it and try to do skiing that’s deserving of a victory.”

The American truly brought it, tightening the proverbial screws as she gained 0.12 in the first sector, 0.08 in the second and 0.01 in the third to win by 0.76 seconds. Regarding the sketchy conditions, she divulged later that her razor sharp memory from the second inspection helped her manage a potential problem spot near the finish.

“But it doesn’t always happen that way,” she said, adding that her memory has struggled since the death of her father.

“This year is the first time I’ve been able to focus on this level again,” she said. “It’s this memory and focus that’s coming back now, but it’s taken a really long time to come back.”

Shiffrin said “nothing less than the best is going to work,” before the podium ceremony, and added later that her competitors are responsible for the next-level — even by Shiffrin’s standards — slalom skiing.

“Watching Petra ski this slope the last years, I felt like I was trying the hardest I could and I couldn’t get faster,” she said. “And because of that, I’ve been pushing in training and raising my level and now I think I’m skiing better slalom than I’ve ever skied in my life — because of the competitors that we have.”

Vlhova was disappointed to go another slalom — the eighth in a row — without a win, and blamed mistakes on the first run. “I wanted to manage better and of course I want to always win, but this year, Mikaela is really strong and if you want to beat her, you need to ski perfect in both runs,” she said.

With her seventh win of the 2022-2023 season, Shiffrin extended her slalom discipline lead to 105 points over Holdener and 489 points over Vlhova in the overall standings. When asked about the magnitude of her career numbers and recent momentum, Shiffrin said “it’s hard to put a meaning on the numbers, but right now it’s like I’m riding a wave, and at some point, the wave is going to be done, and that’s the only thing I can guarantee.”

After a slight pause, she added, “And then I’m going to try and catch another wave.”

The Zagreb World Cup continues with a slalom tomorrow. The first run is at 7 a.m. MST and a second goes off at 10 a.m. MST.

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