US teen Shiffrin wins WCup slalom, leads standings

By Eric Willemsem, AP

ZAGREB, Croatia–Mikaela Shiffrin lived up to her billing as skiing’s next big star by becoming the first American woman to win two World Cup races before the age of 18.

The 17-year-old Shiffrin won a night slalom Friday by a massive 1.19-second margin, backing up her first career victory in Sweden last month with another dominating performance.

“Everything went really well today,” Shiffrin said after putting down the fastest time in both runs. “It felt great.”

She now tops the World Cup slalom standings and even went ahead of Lindsey Vonn as the top American in the overall table. Vonn resumed training Thursday after a monthlong break from the circuit but skipped this race. Shiffrin has 426 points in the overall standings, compared to 414 for Vonn. Both are way behind the leader, Tina Maze, of Slovenia, who has 1,139 points despite going out in the second run on Friday.

“It’s definitely one of my goals to win the slalom title,” Shiffrin said. “And then the GS (giant slalom) title, and sometime the overall. Right now, I am taking it day by day and race by race.”

It might still take some time for Shiffrin, who only competes in the technical disciplines, to challenge for the overall title. But she can already classify this as her breakthrough season after becoming the youngest woman since 1977 to win two slalom races in one season. She also has six more top-10 finishes so far.

“I had a tricky time last year, a couple of races where I straddled (a gate),” Shiffrin said. “This year I fixed that and have found my groove.”

Shiffrin leads the slalom standings with 336 points, followed by Veronika Velez Zuzulova of Slovakia with 312 and Maze with 310.

Shiffrin led by nearly half a second after the first run and only extended her advantage in the second, finishing in a combined time of 2 minutes, 1.73 seconds.

She became the youngest winner in nine editions of the Zagreb event, which is billed as the Snow Queen Trophy. The winner is awarded a crown of glass and a robe. The crown, however, broke into pieces in a transportation box.

“I think I have a new Halloween costume for next year,” Shiffrin joked. “First I need to glue (the crown) back together.”

Shiffrin was helped by mistakes from her closest challengers after the opening leg, Slovenia’s Tina Maze and Sweden’s Maria Pietilae-Holmner, who both failed to finish their final run.

Frida Hansdotter, of Sweden, came second, and Erin Mielzynski, of Canada, was 1.76 behind in third. The rest of the field finished more than two seconds off Shiffrin’s winning time.

Hansdotter was full of praise for Shiffrin, calling her “an amazing skier.”

“And she doesn’t think too much, she just goes for it,” Hansdotter said.

Shiffrin called her skiing “solid.”

“I was just letting my skis taking me to the bottom and that is what I am looking for,” she said.

Velez Zuzulova won the last two races in Semmering and Munich but finished only 24th Friday after a mistake in her second run brought her to a standstill. Maze straddled a gate in the second run.

Slalom world champion Marlies Schild, of Austria, who won here the last two seasons, has been ruled out for three months after knee surgery in December.

Shiffrin said she was back to full strength after fighting a persistent cold in December.

“I was a little bit sick, I think I have my energy back now,” she said after the first run.

Shiffrin’s American teammate Resi Stiegler finished ninth for her best result since recovering from knee surgery following her crash at last year’s World Cup finals.

The course was in excellent condition despite rising temperatures over the last couple of days.

A men’s slalom on the same course is scheduled for Sunday. The women’s circuit travels to St. Anton, Austria, for speed races next week.