After experiencing so much success in one season, it's hard to believe there could be any more records to break, but Mikaela Shiffrin (Avon, Colo.) made history once again on Saturday in Špindlerův Mlýn, Czech Republic when she earned her 15th FIS Ski World Cup victory of the season, and her career 58th win.
On a snowy first run, Shiffrin came out of the gate charging, and took a lead by nearly four tenths over Switzerland's Wendy Holdener. Sweden's Frida Hansdotter was in third by 1.28 seconds, and - after winning yesterday's giant slalom - Slovakian rival Petra Vlhova was in fourth with a massive 1.33 second margin. After taking third place in Friday's giant slalom, Shiffrin came to charge Saturday, proving that she is the best in the world. With the slalom and overall titles already in the bag, Shiffrin was skiing free of expectations and pressure. And that was certainly noticeable.
The snow subsided for second run, but the springlike conditions persisted. The volunteers and organizing committee at the venue did everything they could and worked hard hosing the track down and salting it, to ensure that it would hold up. Vlhova came down with a strong run and took the lead by six tenths, then it was Hansdotter's turn. She struggled in the top section and fell back, out of contention for a podium position "Sendy" Wendy Holdener - who had not been second on a slalom podium yet this season - charged and skied blazing fast into first place by 1.2 seconds. Then, it was Shiffrin's turn...and it was just her against the mountain. Building on her lead the entire way down, Shiffrin crossed the finish line to a roaring Czech crowd nearly a second - .85 seconds to be exact - ahead of Holdener to take her historic 15th victory.
For Holdener, the result marked her fourth slalom podium of the 2018/19 season but first time in second place. She held off Petra Vlhova of Slovakia who won Friday's giant slalom and was a clear crowd favorite.
Snowfall in the first run that changed to rain for later competitors made for a challenging morning. But the track held up and the precipitation stayed at bay for the second run. Shiffrin and Holdener held their positions from the first run but Vlhova was able to move onto the podium and capitalize on an opportunity when Frida Hansdotter of Sweden made a costly error that dropped her back to seventh.
"That was a really cool day," reflected Shiffrin after the race. "I felt no pressure with globes, standings, or that kind of thing...just that I really wanted to ski two really aggressive runs and I knew it was going to be bumpy in the second run. It was really important for me to be tough enough - in my mind - 'I could still go really hard in the second run and be athletic and handle the bumps, and do my very best. I was thinking that if I take this risk maybe I will not be able to finish, but I want to try that - because I have nothing to lose.'" And take risks she did. "I was able to get to the finish, and it was a super cool day."
It only seemed fitting that on the same track Shiffrin skied her first-ever World Cup slalom in 2011 as a mere 15-year-old, she'd break yet another record, and this time, a big one: Vreni Schneider's season win record of 14 victories. Shiffrin secured the 15th World Cup victory of what has been a storybook season. This is an achievement no man or woman has ever done before. The ever-understated Shiffrin, who has won 38 victories in the last three seasons, still seems to be surprising herself with the success.
"What can I say...that's crazy," Shiffrin laughed. "If you told me eight years ago at this race - my first race in World Cup - that I would be in this position right now, I wouldn't believe it. It's really, really special. My whole team - we're celebrating it a lot - because it's been an amazing year, it's been an amazing career so far. But, at the same time, records are meant to be broken, and maybe me achieving this one will inspire a little girl who could beat my record someday. That's what's really important to me."
The atmosphere in Špindlerův Mlýn was incredible, and the organizing committee is really making an effort to show that they want the World Cup back here in the Czech Republic sooner than later. The athletes loved it, too. "It's a really, really good crowd here," commented Shiffrin. "I know they want to see Petra on top, but they're still cheering for me, they're cheering for Wendy, they're cheering for everyone and that's a really special feeling to see these people who care about the sport so much and you can really see this passion. It makes it easy to really love doing this."
Veteran Resi Stiegler (Jackson Hole, Wyo.), who returned to World Cup action in Maribor, Slovenia after sustaining a knee injury in St Moritz, Switzerland earlier this season also started on Saturday, but did not qualify for the second run.
The final regular season race for the ladies wrapped up and now the top 25 athletes in the World Cup standings for each discipline have the opportunity to compete at World Cup Finals in Soldeu (AND) which start with downhill training on Monday, 11th March.