KILLINGTON, Vt. — Wins and records don’t motivate Mikaela Shiffrin. What drives her, she has said, is the elusive perfect turn and making a run of perfect alpine skiing turns.
On another cold day at the Killington World Cup, it looked like she achieved her goal in the slalom—at least on her first run. Shiffrin danced down Killington’s Superstar trail, tapping edge to edge with nary a wobble, then held on for a wild second run to claim her 62nd world cup win by a huge 2.29-second margin over rival Petra Vlhova from Slovakia (1:50.45 to 1:52.74). Sweden’s Anna Swenn Larsson rounded out the podium in third (1:53.18).
“It’s really so fun to compete in front of a crowd here, this crowd is so special,” said Shiffrin. “I could hear them today again. I kept thinking, ‘Keep fighting to get down there and keep fighting to make it to the finish and keep pushing, these guys are excited to see it.’ The [fans] really, really carried me down the hill. Anywhere else I might have gotten bumped off the course.”
Shiffrin has now won the Killington slalom every year it’s been held—four consecutive times. This victory bumped her up to 62 world cup wins, tying Austrian Annemarie Moser-Pröll for second-most world cup victories for women behind Lindsey Vonn’s 82. It was also her 42nd world cup slalom victory; only Swedish legend Ingemar Stenmark (46 in giant slalom) and Vonn (43 in downhill) have won more in a single event.
In overall world cup standings, Shiffrin extended her lead to 340 points, more than twice as many as her nearest rival (Swiss skier Michelle Gisin with 148).
Shiffrin’s first run was something to behold. On an icy, bulletproof course that took out over a quarter of the field, including most of the U.S. racers, she won it by a whopping 1.13 seconds.
Never one to admit perfection, Shiffrin hedged her answer when asked, “Was that a perfect run?”
“When I have a perfect run,” she began before adding as an aside, “I guess I’ve never had a perfect run,” then continued, “the feeling that I like to have is that I know what I’m doing in the course, and I can adjust based on that.
“So when I felt in the middle that my pace was slowing down, I was able to pick it back up again. That’s really, really nice because then when I come to the finish, I know exactly what happened, and I knew what I was doing with my skiing.”
She admitted later that she was tired this morning and had to ski the first run in an angry mindset.
“Anger was the only thing that was going to wake me up, so I tried to just be angry, which is not really my normal state,” she admitted. “Normally, I’m fairly cheerful or melancholy but not really angry. But sometimes that works with my skiing. It gives me a little bit of fire.”
Then second run, she just had to hang on. After 29 racers had skied the course ahead of her, it was a bumpy ride.
“I was really happy with the fight on the second run,” Shiffrin said. “It’s not that I felt slow in the second run, but I felt really scrappy and just was doing everything I could to keep my skis moving and making it down the course.”
With the 2.29-second victory margin, Shiffrin put to rest any talk of a rivalry with Vlhova. The last 22 women's world cup slalom races were won by either Shiffrin (18) or Vlhova (4).
But Shiffrin has never viewed Vlhova as a rival.
“I always shied away from talking about rivalries because I feel like you can never look at just one athlete and only have your eyes set on that one athlete because there’s always somebody else who’s going to sneak up on you and surpass you if you’re just focusing on one,” Shiffrin said on the eve of the Killington World Cup.
“So instead of focusing on everyone else, you just focus on yourself and go as fast as you can. Then those rivalries kind of make themselves.”
For her part, Vlhova likes competing against Shiffrin.
“It’s really good for us because she pushes us,” the Slovakian said. “I am really happy that she is skiing so fast because I want to catch her, so I have to push if I want to beat her. So it’s good. There are a lot of races ahead.”
* * *
Although Shiffrin skied in front of thousands of fans at Killington, one person missing was her beloved grandmother. Pauline “Polly” Condron passed away in October at age 98.
Killington was the first world cup race where her grandmother watched her race three years ago. But Shiffrin did not do anything special this weekend to honor her grandmother. She did not have to.
“She’s been on my mind, I think, every race I’ve ever skied, so this was no different,” Shiffrin said. “I didn’t want to feel like I was racing for her. But in a way I’m always racing for her because she was such a big supporter, one of my absolute biggest supporters and my biggest inspiration.”
Shiffrin admitted to compartmentalizing her feelings—putting them in a box off to the side—but knows she will have to deal with her grief at some point.
Her primary way of honoring her grandmother is to continue carrying on with her cheerful demeanor.
“She just wanted everybody to be happy and nice and kind and generous and smiling all the time,” said Shiffrin. “I’m trying to embody that the best I can.”
* * *
Although five other U.S. women started the Killington slalom, only 2016 Youth Olympian Keely Cashman finished (43rd). Paula Moltzan, who scored her best world cup result here last year in 17th, had the 10th-fastest split, but crashed a handful of gates from the finish. The 2015 slalom junior world champion, Moltzan has been struggling with a back injury.
Behind Moltzan, Nina O’Brien, Foreste Peterson and Katie Hensien also failed to finish.
Still, Shiffrin is optimistic.
“Six American girls starting in a [world cup] GS and slalom race,” she said. “It hasn’t been that way in a while. It’s awesome.”
From Killington, Shiffrin is flying to Canada for the first women’s speed races of the season at Lake Louise, Alberta, later this week.
An award-winning freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered five Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.