Mikaela Shiffrin got a late birthday present Thursday, securing her first overall women’s world cup title, and she didn’t have to strap on a ski to do it.
Four days after her 22nd birthday, she secured her first overall crystal globe, presented to the alpine skier who earned the most points across all world cup disciplines in the 2016-17 season. Shiffrin secured the title when Slovenia’s Ilka Stuhec declared she will not compete in Saturday's slalom in Aspen, Colorado, due to exhaustion, ending any mathematical chance for her to overtake Shiffrin in the final two races of the season.
Shiffrin was dominant in her first full season back from a knee injury that prevented her from winning a fourth consecutive crystal globe in slalom last year. Her rehab was faster than anticipated, and she was able to return to the circuit late last season. She won the final three races, then reeled off victories in the first four slalom stops this season. She won six times and earned seven slalom podiums this season – her only non-podium result was a DNF Jan. 3 in Zagreb, Croatia.
In addition to taking her fourth slalom cup crown, which she locked down last weekend in Squaw Valley, California, the reigning Olympic slalom champion won her third consecutive slalom world title last month in St. Moritz, Switzerland.
While virtually unbeatable in slalom, it takes excellence in more than one discipline to secure an overall title, and Shiffrin showed she’s more than a one-trick pony by being almost as solid in giant slalom, winning three times and recording four podiums. She also won a parallel slalom city event Jan. 31 in Stockholm, Sweden, and a combined Feb. 2 in Crans-Montana, Switzerland, in only her second-career combined start.
Shiffrin’s campaign to claim the big globe became a virtual sure thing in late January when her closest competition, reigning overall champion Lara Gut of Switzerland, crashed during a super-G race in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy. Instead of wresting the lead from Shiffrin at that race, Gut went to the sidelines with a knee injury that would keep her off the slopes the remainder of the season.
Perhaps a sign of things to come, Shiffrin posted a career-best fourth in the super-G that day, adding 50 points to her margin instead of falling behind Gut and achieving her best performance in a speed event. Since then, she’s done nothing but win, adding five more victories – and 500 more points – to her lead.
A sweep of this weekend’s slalom and giant slalom would give Shiffrin 13 wins this season, which would surpass the American record of 12 by Vonn in 2011-12 and would be second only to the 14 won during the 1988-89 season by Switzerland’s Vreni Schneider.
Shiffrin’s big crystal globe is the first for Team USA since Lindsey Vonn collected her fourth in five years in 2012. Vonn (2008-10, 2012) and Tamara McKinney (1983) are the only American women to earn the title. Two American men have achieved the feat: Phil Mahre (1981-83) and Bode Miller (2005, 2008).
The only remaining question for Shiffrin this season is whether or not she can claim the giant slalom globe. She is second in the standings, 80 points behind two-time world champion Tessa Worley of France, who has top-six finishes in all seven giant slalom races this season, including three wins and six podiums. To claim the globe, Shiffrin would have to win Sunday's finale and Worley place 14th or lower.