ZAGREB, Croatia — In the rhythmic style of a dancer, Mikaela Shiffrin approached yet another record on Saturday.
The American skier dominated the first women’s World Cup slalom of 2019 to match her personal best winning streak in the discipline with seven straight victories.
Rivals were awed by her opening run, a flawless attack that gave her a lead of more than a second for the final run, while Shiffrin felt a familiar groove.
“When I am skiing my best, it feels something like a dance,” she said. “The rhythm is really something that I can feel helps me ski faster in every turn. There were a lot of turns that felt like this dance.”
The two-time overall champion built on her big first-run lead to beat Petra Vlhova of Slovakia by 1.25 on the icy Crveni Spust course. Wendy Holdener of Switzerland was 1.75 seconds behind in third.
At a night event in Austria on Tuesday, Shiffrin can match the all-time record of eight consecutive slalom wins, set by Vreni Schneider of Switzerland in 1989 and repeated by Janica Kostelic of Croatia in 2001.
“I am not counting the streak,” she said. “To be at this level and always pushing to be faster and stay at the top, for sure it is difficult to keep that form or to even get better. Everybody on my team does a really good job to help me focus again, to push harder, to be more motivated, to do these things that I can stay at the top. I am not up there alone.”
It was Shiffrin’s fourth triumph in the race on the outskirts of Croatian capital Zagreb, after winning it in 2013, 2015, and last year.
“It’s a great atmosphere and it’s a really great track,” Shiffrin said about the Sljeme hill. “It’s the perfect track to be aggressive.”
Shiffrin has won 12 of the last 13, and 28 of the last 34 World Cup slaloms she’s competed in.
Last week, the American set the all-time women’s World Cup record of 36 slalom victories. She’s closing on Ingemar Stenmark’s total of 40. The Swedish great is the only skier to have won more than Shiffrin in the discipline.
In all five classic slalom races this season Shiffrin and Vlhova have gone 1-2, but the Slovakian turned the tables in a parallel event in Oslo on New Year’s Day, when she beat her rival in the final.
Four days later, however, Shiffrin won in impressive style.
She was challenged by a furious final run by Vlhova, who posted the fastest second-run time on a course set by her coach, Livio Magoni. The Slovakian is the only skier beside Shiffrin to have won a women’s World Cup slalom since the start of last season.
Carrying a lead of 1.34 over Vlhova from the opening run, Shiffrin started fast in her final run but briefly lost control, a mistake which reduced her advantage by a half-second.
Shiffrin quickly regained her rhythm and, even though it looked like she avoided taking further risks, she extended her lead over Vlhova again to well over a second.
“I saw some of the girls having a little trouble on this section,” Shiffrin said about this mishap in her final run. “But my big goal in the second run was, I wanted to ski fast, I didn’t want to protect the win.”
Beaten once again, Vlhova still said she was “really happy I did it again and I took second place.”
“In the first run I had some mistakes so I lost (time) in some parts, in the second run I tried full gas without mistakes,” Vlhova added. “(Shiffrin) is really strong, she always goes without mistakes. Today is done but we have more races coming up.”
Holdener has racked up 19 podiums in her slalom career but has yet to win. No racer, male or female, has had more podiums without winning a race.
Olympic slalom champion Frida Hansdotter, who was fifth after the opening run, climbed to fourth, but the Swede trailed Shiffrin by a massive 2.97 seconds.
A men’s World Cup slalom on the same hill is scheduled for Sunday.
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