|Mikaela Shiffrin celebrates her finish in the giant slalom on
Dec. 1, 2013 in Beaver Creek, Colo.
BEAVER CREEK, Colo. – Jessica Lindell-Vikarby may have won her first world cup giant slalom on Sunday, at Beaver Creek, Colo., but the 18-year-old American runner-up Mikaela Shiffrin prevented the home team from a podium shutout in its lone U.S. stop on the tour.
The U.S. had fared no better than 19th place in the previous days’ downhill and super-G, but on Sunday, Shiffrin captured second place in riveting fashion.
The teenager was also a bit of an underdog.
Shiffrin had never placed higher than sixth in GS, and was more famous for winning last season’s world championship and world cup titles in slalom while completing her senior year of high school.
In the first run of GS on Sunday, Shiffrin posted the second-fastest time, trailing behind Lindell-Vikarby by a substantial-but-not-unbeatable 44 hundredths of a second. A few racers later, American Julia Mancuso qualified for a second run by finishing among the top 30, but barely. Meanwhile, the headliner, Lara Gut of Switzerland, who had won back-to-back races in downhill and super-G here, fell and failed to take the hat trick.
Between runs, Shiffrin seemed relaxed.
“This is my favorite hill,” she said, adding that her first run “was pretty close to the run I wanted. I’ve been training more GS this year than last year. It’s awesome to be here and feel the crowd. I’m definitely not afraid of that support. At the start, I was like, ‘I wanna go right now!’”
In run two, Shiffrin was the second-to-last racer to ski. As Shiffrin awaited her turn, the 2006 Olympic GS champion, Mancuso, skied off course. The pre-race favorite, Tina Maze of Slovenia, also ran into trouble and dropped from sixth place to — ultimately — 11th. (Maze was the 2013 world cup GS and overall champion.)
As clouds set in and a chilling wind blew, Shiffrin eagerly stepped into the start gate in front of a raucous home crowd and a crescendo of cowbells.
Displaying he trademark calm, Shiffrin produced a blazing-fast second run and put all the pressure on the final racer of the day, the first-run leader Lindell-Vikarby. The Swede was just as poised, however, and beat Shiffrin by nine hundredths of a second.
“I’m really happy with second place,” Shiffrin said afterwards. “I came into the season hoping to improve over my GS, and I’m in the process of doing that.”
Asked afterwards what it would take to win, Shiffrin responded literally and said, “Nine hundies!” referring to Sunday’s slim margin of victory.
By finishing second in GS, Shiffrin is clearly emerging as a podium threat in more than one alpine discipline. She has already bettered her sixth-place finish in GS at the 2013 world championships in Schladming, Austria, as well as her career-best sixth-place GS finish on the world cup earlier this season in Soelden, Austria.
Shiffrin will skip next weekend’s speed races in Lake Louise, Canada, and return to the gates in St. Moritz, Switzerland, for another giant slalom on Dec. 15.
The 29-year-old Mancuso, however, will compete in Lake Louise, with hopes of regaining her winning form.
After Mancuso’s first run of GS on Sunday, Mancuso said, “I didn’t think it was a winning run, but I thought it was a second faster than it was.” It put her in 28th place. “If you’re off just a little bit [on this course], it adds up.” The three-time Olympic medalist and five-time world championship medalist would end the day with a DNF.
In the bigger picture, Mancuso said, “It’s hard when you’re struggling to find that extra bit of energy. When things are going fast, it seems easy. When you’re younger, you have a lot of breakthroughs. It’s tough once you reach a certain level in your career. You have to remember that it keeps going.”
Mancuso also admitted that it’s difficult to keep skiing three or four events, but refuses to give up on GS. “It’s definitely easier to focus on just one or two [events],” she said, “but I feel like GS is the building block of everything.”
Or, in Shiffrin’s case on Sunday, the stepping stone.
Aimee Berg is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of the United States Olympic Committee or any National Governing Bodies.