Trial run for Sochi Olympics: Mikaela Shiffrin wins in snow, rain in World Cup
AP Sports Writer
BORMIO, Italy — If this was a trial run for the Sochi Olympics, Mikaela Shiffrin passed with flying colors.
The American teenager fought through soft snow, rain and deep ruts — exactly the type of conditions she could face in Sochi next month — to win her second World Cup slalom of the season Sunday.
“It’s always a big confidence booster to have good skiing in different conditions,” Shiffrin said. “I never wanted to be a racer who could only win on hard snow or just soft snow, or just a steep pitch or just a flat. I want to be really good in all-around conditions and getting a win today has given me a lot of confidence that I can ski out of ruts in the second run.”
Located near the Black Sea, the Alpine resort of Rosa Khutor that will host the skiing races at the Olympics is known for varying weather conditions.
“Sochi can be challenging with the weather and everything,” U.S. Alpine director Patrick Riml said. “So she (Shiffrin) showed today that she’s very well prepared.”
The 18-year-old Shiffrin led by 0.03 seconds after the opening run and ending up winning by 0.13 ahead of Maria Pietilae-Holmner of Sweden for the sixth victory of her career.
With all six of her wins in slalom Shiffrin took over sole possession of second on the all-time slalom list among American women, trailing only Tamara McKinney’s nine victories.
Nastasia Noens of France moved up from 13th after the first run to finish third, 0.62 behind.
Shiffrin was only 0.01 ahead of Pietilae-Holmner at the final checkpoint but she excelled on the steep finishing gates to add to her lead.
Snow was falling on the top part of the course and rain at the bottom in the opening run, with spectators holding up umbrellas. During the second run, it was snowing at both the top and bottom.
Shiffrin’s virtually perfect form and balance over her skis helped her overcome the varying conditions.
“She’s an unbelievable skier,” Riml said. “Good, solid body position definitely pays off in tough conditions like today.”
Shiffrin was 12th and second in her previous two slaloms and was clearly motivated for this race.
“I was really psyched to win again,” she said. “It’s been a fight all season and I feel like, if I’m not perfectly ready, then the win goes to somebody else. So I was really trying to prepare myself and be ready to go today no matter what the conditions or the visibility.”
The race was moved from Zagreb due to a lack of snow in Croatia, where Shiffrin also won last year. Having never raced in Bormio, she prepared by watching a YouTube video of Janica Kostelic’s gold-medal run from the 2005 world championships, even though the women competed just up the road in Santa Caterina back then.
“I was like, ‘Yeah, I think I can do that,’” Shiffrin said of the retired Croatian standout. “It was pretty incredible to see her ski, because she really was the start of the new style of skiing and really pushing into the turns. She started it. I feel like if she was racing now she would still be winning.”
Overall World Cup leader Maria Hoefl-Riesch stood fifth after the opening run but lost control shortly into her second trip down and skied off course.
Austrian specialist Marlies Schild recovered from a poor opening run — she was 15th — to finish sixth, with her younger sister Bernadette Schild placing fourth and Marie-Michele Gagnon of Canada fifth.
Marlies Schild won the past two races to set the record for most World Cup slalom victories with 35 and trailed Shiffrin by just two points in the discipline standings entering the race.
Shiffrin now leads by 62 points, with four more slaloms left to defend her season-long title from last year, when she also won the gold medal in the slalom at the world championships in Schladming, Austria.
It was Shiffrin’s third consecutive podium result after placing third and second in a giant slalom and slalom last weekend in Lienz, Austria. Her other win this season came in Levi, Finland, in November.
“I’m very excited with how my season is going right now and I think I can do better, too,” Shiffrin said.
Pietilae-Holmner’s only two victories came in the 2010-11 season, while Noens’ only previous podium result came in a slalom in Flachau, Austria, three years ago.
Resi Stiegler, the only other American starter, was 40th in the first run and failed to qualify for the second leg.
Four-time overall winner Lindsey Vonn skipped the race as she continues to rest her injured knee.
A men’s slalom is scheduled for Monday night on the Stelvio.
The Sochi Games start Feb. 7.
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