Mikaela Shiffrin made history Saturday at the 2017 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in St. Moritz, Switzerland, by winning her third consecutive slalom world championship, becoming the first woman of any nation to win three straight slalom titles in 78 years.
Germany’s Christl Cranz has four slalom titles, with her last three coming from 1937-39.
The gold three-peat also makes Shiffrin the first U.S. woman to win three world championship gold medals total. Lindsey Vonn is the only other American with two, winning both downhill and giant slalom in 2009.
Starting out Bib 1, Shiffrin precisely glided through the gates with a time of 47.80 seconds. The closest anyone could get was the 48.18 by Switzerland’s Wendy Holdener. Veronika Velez Zuzulova of Slovakia, currently ranked second in the slalom world cup standings, was 0.59 seconds back.
Shiffrin had a virtually identical advantage at the halfway point of the 2015 championship in Vail-Beaver Creek, Colorado, leading by 0.40 seconds over Sweden’s Frida Hansdotter before taking the crown by a 0.34 second margin.
With nearly four-tenths of a second of insurance tucked away Saturday, all Shiffrin had to do was ski a consistent second run, and she did better than that. Her 49.47 gave her a combined time of 1:37.27, 1.64 seconds ahead of silver medalist Wendy Holdener of Switzerland. Frida Hansdotter of Sweden was third. Velez Zuzulova did not finish her second run.
Shiffrin’s massive margin is the largest at a women’s world championships event in 47 years.
Less than a month shy of her 22nd birthday, Shiffrin joins Ted Ligety as the only two American skiers to win three consecutive world titles, adding yet another landmark accomplishment to a career that for all intents and purposes still is in its early stages.
Her world cup debut in March 2011 at Spindleruv Mlyn, Czech Republic, was inauspicious: She failed to qualify for the second run in both slalom and giant slalom. But it didn’t take her long to find her rhythm, scoring her first podium, a third place in slalom, just nine months later in Lienz, Austria.
Since then she has racked up 40 total world cup podiums, 28 of which are victories. In 49 world cup slalom starts in her six world cup seasons, Shiffrin has claimed 30 podiums and 24 wins. That translates to reaching the podium in 61 percent of her slalom starts, and winning just under half the time (.490) she gets into the starting gate.
To put Shiffrin’s world cup achievements into perspective, Austria’s Marlies Schild holds the women’s record with 35 career slalom world cup victories, just 10 more than Shiffrin. A three-time Olympic medalist who competed from 2001-14, the Austrian achieved her total in 98 starts over 12 seasons, a .357 winning percentage. Switzerland’s Vreni Schneider’s 34 career wins came in only 63 starts in 11 seasons, a .540 winning percentage.
Saturday marked only the second slalom race (sixth overall) for Shiffrin on the slopes of St. Moritz. She also won the first, a world cup race last March that proved to be a harbinger of things to come.
Shiffrin already had a solid grip on the overall world cup lead prior to worlds, and that grip turned into a stranglehold before the next cup event due to a season-ending injury to Switzerland’s Lara Gut.
Before going down during a training run in St. Moritz, Gut was Shiffrin’s closest competition, only 180 points behind. With Gut now out of the equation, Shiffrin’s margin to the next competitor, Italy’s Sofia Goggia, balloons to 414 points, a virtually insurmountable advantage. With only four world cups remaining, the last two on Shiffrin’s home snow – March 10-11 in Squaw Valley, California, and March 18-19 in Aspen, Colorado – Shiffrin could be taking a victory lap less than two hours’ drive from her home in Vail.