Paula Moltzan celebrates during the women's slalom at the 2022 FIS Alpine Skiing World Cup on Dec. 29, 2022 in Semmering, Austria.
If World Cup skiing was rewarded at the Academy Awards, then Paula Moltzan would win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.Moltzan’s performance on the Panorama race piste under the bright lights in Semmering, Austria, was nothing less than sensational. The 28-year-old Stifel U.S. Alpine Team athlete charged to her first career World Cup slalom podium, finishing second, only outdone by shining star Mikaela Shiffrin. The teammates shared an emotional embrace in the finish corral in front of a cheering Austrian crowd.
“It was definitely a full roller coaster of emotions throughout the entire day – to be able to put it down twice (two runs) in one day was surprising,” Moltzan tells Team USA in a phone interview on Friday. “I was definitely a little nervous, a little scared, but I knew my skiing could do it, so I took a couple of deep breaths and let it happen.
“I honestly couldn’t be more proud of myself and my whole team, and it’s even better to do it here in front of my parents,” said the Minnesota ski racer and University of Vermont Alumni.
“Paula had a ripping run,” Shiffrin said about Moltzan’s second run, shortly after achieving her third consecutive victory over three days at the Austrian resort. “I saw it from the start. I thought ‘she might win this race.’
“The coolest thing about tonight was coming into the finish and seeing Paula,” Shiffrin continued. “It’s a pretty special thing to have a podium with your teammate. I’ve experienced it a few times in my career, but the first time in slalom and it feels amazing.”
Shiffrin tallied her 80th career World Cup triumph, and 50th in slalom, but for Moltzan personally, it was a breakthrough performance, her fifth consecutive top ten finish. Third after the opening run, Moltzan raced with aggression and composure in the second run, and finished runner-up to Shiffrin by 0.29 seconds.
While Shiffrin’s latest exploits – four consecutive victories across three disciplines – have been otherworldly, Moltzan’s recent surge, considering a tough start to her season, also deserves a standing ovation.
“I don’t know if there was any big turning moment, we weren’t doing anything different in training and my race prep has been the same, so I think maybe it was just a matter of time,” Moltzan says about attaining her first career slalom podium. “It’s just about consistency and carrying that into the races, and hopefully I can keep doing that.
“To keep this momentum going in slalom and GS is kind of a dream come true, considering I only started skiing World Cup GS three years ago.”
Moltzan, a former NCAA slalom champion while at UVM, has also finished second in a parallel slalom event, also in Austria, in November 2020.
Mikaela and Paula packing a 1-2 punch
It appears for the first time in ages, that Team USA now poses a bonafide 1-2 threat in World Cup tech events. We’re talking a first in a seriously long time, like perhaps since a combination of Tamara McKinney, Christin Cooper and Debbie Armstrong or the Mahre brothers, in the early 1980’s.
Shiffrin and Moltzan’s 1-2 finish in Semmering was the first time U.S. slalom racers shared a podium since Marilyn and Barbara Ann Cochran, Ryan Cochran-Siegle’s Mom, also finished 1-2 at Mont-Sainte-Anne, Quebec, in February 1971.
“We’re making history together, while Mikaela is making history by herself,” Moltzan says.
Moltzan, 28, says that on occasion, although Shiffrin, 27, regularly prepares for four disciplines compared to her two, they push each other’s limits in training.
“We had two days together over Christmas before this – we don’t train that much together, but when we do get the opportunity it’s actually pretty entertaining to watch because we often go back and forth, run for run, to see who’s faster,” Moltzan informs. “I think we push each other outside of our comfort zones.
“When she’s faster, she always gives me advice in both GS and in slalom and you really can’t not listen to the Queen herself.”
Moltzan’s rise to near the top of the podium has been brewing for a few seasons. She and Mikaela were teammates as Team USA narrowly missed a medal in the mixed team parallel event at the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022. Moltzan was also eighth in the Olympic slalom, the top U.S. finisher considering Shiffrin’s mishap.
Moltzan appears well on course to be Shiffrin’s more than capable understudy, as Mikaela edges more perfect turns and closer to World Cup history, charging into 2023.
With mounting confidence Moltzan will seek to extend her hot streak on European snow in the New Year. She’ll also have a front row seat, and perhaps even some influence, on Shiffrin’s record pursuit of Lindsey Vonn’s 82 World Cup wins, and Ingemar Stenmark’s all-time mark of 86.
“I have no doubt in my mind that Mikaela will break this record easily in the New Year with or without me,” Moltzan says. “All I can do is be there to be a friend and if she wants course reports or feedback, then I’ll be there for her.”
Bringing in the New Year
For Moltzan, Shiffrin and U.S. teammates, it’s onward for a hectic stretch of five tech races over the span of 10 days, kicking off with back-to-back night slaloms in Zagreb, Croatia, January 4-5. After that will be a pair of giant slalom races in Kranjska Gora, Slovenia, January 7-8, and finally another night slalom, in Flachau, Austria, on January 10th. Moltzan scored her first career World Cup points on the Flachau racehill in January 2016.
“It’s a really nice time to feel like you have a lot of confidence in your skiing,” Moltzan says. “There’s no reason to step off the gas pedal. This is hopefully just the beginning.”
Moltzan is excited to ski even faster in 2023, but also melancholy about saying goodbye to 2022.
“I’m a little sad for 2022 to end because it was one of the best years of my life – I went to the Olympics, I got married and I got my first slalom podium. It’s going to be hard to top, but I’m excited for it definitely.”