By Peggy Shinn | Nov. 30, 2019, 5:23 p.m. (ET)
Mikaela Shiffrin celebrates at the FIS Alpine Ski World Cup on Nov. 30, 2019 in Killington, Vt.

 

KILLINGTON, Vt. -- Mikaela Shiffrin knows how to come from behind. And on a clear, frigid day at Killington Resort, in front of nearly 20,000 fans, she did just that.

In fifth place after the first run of the Killington World Cup giant slalom—shortened a few gates due to high winds—the 24-year-old alpine skier vaulted onto the podium with the second-fastest second run. With a two-run time of 1:38.48, Shiffrin finished in third place behind the Italian duo of Marta Bassino (1:38.19) and Federica Brignone (1:38.45).

“My biggest goal for the second run was to be a little smoother on the edges and not break through the surface but still be aggressive and let everything go forward,” Shiffrin said. “I did a better job of that, so I was psyched with that.”

It was her sixth straight world cup giant slalom podium extending back to Jan. 5, 2019, when she won in Kronplatz, Italy. She also won world championship bronze in that period.

Her third-place finish also helped extend her overall world cup lead over second-place Wendy Holdener of Switzerland (240 points to 128). Shiffrin also currently leads the giant slalom standings as well.

This was Bassino’s first world cup win, and Brignone won here last year.

Shiffrin has come a long way mentally since the inaugural Killington World Cup in 2016. That first year, she was almost crippled by nerves. Having lived in the east for half of her youth and attended nearby Burke Mountain Academy for high school, she felt pressure to win world cup races in front of a home crowd. Although she won the slalom that first year, she finished fifth in giant slalom.

Then a fan messaged her on Instagram, telling her that most people were at Killington to enjoy the show, and no matter where she finished, fans would support her.

“It was meaningful to read at that time,” she said.

Now Shiffrin enjoys the raucous crowd.

“I realized that people want to see an American on top, but no one really cares,” she said with a laugh.

“The crowd here is excited to see racers, and they’re excited to see a performance, to watch [Mikaela’s] skiing,” added Brignone. “Nobody is judging. So I think she is lucky to race here. She can really not feel the pressure.”

Shiffrin also enjoyed watching her up-and-coming teammates compete today. Nina O’Brien continued her progression up the world cup standings. She turned 22 on the eve of the race, then finished 28th (1:41.39) in the giant slalom—in the world cup points for the fourth time in her career (the top 30 racers earn points).

“I love the way that she skis,” Shiffrin said of O’Brien. “She has such solid technique, and she has so much discipline. She’s building her speed—building, building, building. She has a really great foundation for that. The sky is the limit there, and she can just keep improving.”

As she was riding the chairlift for her second run, Shiffrin saw O’Brien’s second run on the course below her.

“It gave me shivers,” she said.

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O’Brien, who is an economics major at Dartmouth College, made her world cup debut at Killington in 2016, then scored her first world cup points here last year, finishing 23rd. At the Soelden World Cup giant slalom in October, she finished 21st. She is one of handful of women on a resurgent U.S. women’s tech squad.

“It’s like a really good competitive energy in terms of, we like to joke around,” O’Brien said. “Two of my teammates like to trash talk each other, they’re childhood best friends. It’s very playful and lighthearted but at the same time super competitive.”

Although the women don’t often train with Shiffrin—who is competing in all alpine disciplines, from the parallel slaloms to downhill—the world cup star makes herself available to them.

She asked O’Brien if she wanted any advice before her start today, and she reached out last night.

“She just texted me, ‘Happy birthday, and how are you feeling for tomorrow?’” said O’Brien. “She is quite helpful.”

O’Brien was not the only college skier competing at Killington. In her second ever world cup, Storm Klomhaus, 21, did not finish her first run in giant slalom. She is a senior at the University of Denver and after recovering from six surgeries in the past two years, will ski for the Pioneers this season.

As for the world cup, Shiffrin dreams of the U.S. women sweeping the slalom or giant slalom podium one day.

“I feel like this next group of girls is the one to do it,” she said, then added with a laugh, “Someday! We’re going to do it.”

In tomorrow’s slalom, Shiffrin is aiming for her 62nd world cup win — which would tie her with Austrian legend Annemarie Moser-Pröll for the second most wins for a woman behind Lindsey Vonn. It would also be her record fourth win in the Killington slalom.

“I’m really looking forward to tomorrow,” she said. “I just love racing in front of the crowd here. Everybody is so nice and so excited. It’s a special atmosphere.”

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.