“I am not somebody who really believes in myself,” the American four-time world champion said after Petra Vlhova won a night race by 0.10 seconds over Anna Swenn Larsson of Sweden, 10 days after the Slovakian skier had also triumphed in a slalom in Zagreb.
Shiffrin, who was second after the opening run, came 0.43 behind in third for her worst result in the discipline in two years, when she failed to finish in the final race before the Pyeongchang Olympics.
“The way that I have been able to be on the top for so long, is I always did more work, harder work and better work than everybody else did,” said Shiffrin, who has a record 43 World Cup wins and six season titles in the discipline, and has won four straight world championships and Olympic gold in 2014 in skiing’s most technically demanding event.
“So I could come to race day and I didn’t have to be confident,” she added. “I could just ski, I could just ski really hard and it would be enough sometimes. On the rare days when I was confident, then you could see these really big, spectacular margins.”
Shiffrin won a record 17 races last season. And while many started to take her wins for granted, Shiffrin never did. “I have said this so many times when I am winning and (the media) ask, ‘Is it so easy?’ and ‘Are you unbeatable?’ And I am always saying, that these big margins, these wins, they can disappear so easily,” she said.
The wins have disappeared. Shiffrin convincingly won two races in two days in Lienz just after Christmas but is yet to win an event in 2020. “Look at someone like Petra, who has just been getting better and better and better,” she said. “Her technique is nearly perfect and the way that she is working is like she is doing what I have been able to do, better than I can do it right now. So that’s motivation for me.”
Vlhova positioned herself for the win by building a lead of six tenths of a second in the opening run. Though she lost some time on Shiffrin and Larsson in the final run, she had done enough for her 12th career win, and seventh in slalom.
“Both of us, we had a lot of emotions. I have really big respect for her, for me she is a champion. It’s a really good battle," Vlhova said about her American rival, who gave her a hug after the race to congratulate on the victory.
“I know she is angry because she wants to always win," Vlhova said. "It's good to have Miki close to me because she pushes me. It's good for our sport to have two girls like this. We are both on the top.”
Vlhova closed the gap to Shiffrin in the slalom standings to 80 points, but she still trails the American by 273 in the overall rankings. Vlhova had beaten Shiffrin by a margin of 1.31 seconds in Zagreb, which ended the American’s winning streak in slaloms after nearly a year.
The previous time that Shiffrin lost back-to-back slaloms in a single season was more than five years ago. In three races in November and December 2014, she placed 11th, fifth and fourth, respectively, and parted ways with long-term coach Roland Pfeifer shortly afterward.
“I am happy to be on the podium again. I am disappointed with my skiing. But that’s ski racing,” Shiffrin said. “After Zagreb, I knew I had to get some training and fix some things with my slalom skiing. I feel like I accomplished a lot in my training but it’s also another race, it’s a different race, it’s a different day, and I didn’t quite put it out there in the race today.”
Shiffrin failed to make up her deficit in the final run even though she was 0.17 seconds faster than Vlhova on a course with more sharp turns than the first leg. Her head coach, Mike Day, placed the gates for the final run but Shiffrin denied it was set against Vlhova, who favors more straightforward courses.
“You can’t set a course against her right now because her skiing is the best,” Shiffrin said. “So she is able to do any course and handle it the way she needs to.” All 25 World Cup slaloms since January 2017, when Sweden's Frida Hansdotter triumphed here, have been won by either Shiffrin — with 19 — or Vlhova.
Runner-up Swenn Larsson matched her career best result and came just one-tenth short of her first win. “Of course I really wanted to win. Hopefully it will come one day but I am super happy with second place,” said the Swede, who finished third here last season but was disqualified shortly after the race as she had straddled a gate.
The floodlit race in Austria with 14,800 spectators had the highest prize fund on the women's World Cup this season, with Vlhova receiving 70,000 euros ($77,900) for the win. The women's World Cup continues in Sestriere, Italy, this weekend for a giant slalom and parallel GS, followed by several weeks of speed racing.
The next slalom is scheduled for Maribor, Slovenia, on Feb. 16.
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