As her ski racing career evolved from the slopes of Buck Hill, Minn. to the world’s most demanding ski runs, Lindsey Vonn’s exploits prompted Audi FIS Alpine World Cup observers to scurry to the record books.
The most successful alpine ski racer in U.S. history, the 29-year-old Vonn has 59 World Cup victories, three shy of tying the all-time women’s record of 62 held by Austria’s Annemarie Moser-Proell. Vonn holds 17 World Cup titles including six straight in downhill and four in overall.
On Wednesday, three-time Olympian Vonn had successful knee surgery after a series of racing-related injuries in 2013 that cut short her 14th international racing season and forced the 5-10, 160-pound skiing star to postpone her chase of history until the 2014-15 season.
Vail’s precocious Mikaela Shiffrin, 18, is chasing some history, too.
Tuesday night in front of 20,000 screaming Austrian fans at Flachau, first-run leader Shiffrin stayed focused in the snowy second run and captured the seventh World Cup slalom victory of her three-year career by a .83-second margin over Frida Hansdotter, 28, of Sweden.
Hansdotter was seeking her first-ever victory but settled for her eighth runner-up finish in a World Cup race.
Shiffrin’s third slalom win in five events this season stretched her lead in the World Cup slalom standings to 402-258 over Hansdotter, with Austria’s Marlies Schild, 32, in third place at the 245-point level. Schild has won two slaloms and was third after the first run, settling for 26th.
Last season, Shiffrin won her first FIS World Championship slalom and also posted four World Cup slalom victories en route to her first World Cup discipline title, 688-655 over Slovenia’s Tina Maze.
At 18 years and 307 days in age, Shiffrin became the second youngest woman to win seven World Cup slalom races and the youngest for 34 years. France's Perrine Pelen won her seventh at 18 years and 258 days in March 1979. Pelen and Croatia's Janica Kostelic are the only women to have won seven World Cup slalom races before turning 19, according to the International Ski Federation (FIS).
It was the second straight season Shiffrin won the Flachau night slalom joining Croatian Janica Kostelic and Schild as the only athletes to have won it twice at the resort south of Salzburg. Of Shiffrin’s seven slalom victories, four have come at night.
Shiffrin, a graceful 5-7 gate racer from Burke Mountain Academy, also became the first American skier in either gender to win three or more slaloms in a World Cup season twice. Phil Mahre (1981-82), Tamara McKinney (1982-83), and Bode Miller (2001-02) are the only other Americans to have done it once.
At Flachau, Shiffrin logged a combined time of 1:45.83, .83 seconds faster runner-up Hansdotter, while Sweden’s Maria Piatilae-Holmner took third, 1.14 seconds off the pace. Local hero Schild lost balance in the lower section but still managed to stay on the course. The delay cost her more than five seconds, ruining her chance for a solid result.
Having been crowned “Snow Space” princess at Flachau for the second straight year, the first time she has won at the same venue, Shiffrin is hoping to lead the Vonn-less U.S. Ski Team to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia during February.
“It’s nice to sing my National Anthem a couple of races before the Olympics,” Shiffrin said in a U.S. Ski Team press release. “Hopefully I can sing it again in Sochi. It’s really cool to be a favorite going into the Olympics. Imagine being in my position. I’m 18 and I’m going to the Olympics. It’s one of my dreams come true.
“The two Swedish girls, Maria and Frida, they really fought the second run. I think every victory is special. It always means something if the conditions are tough or whatever it is—it’s always nice to be on top.
“It always feels good to ski like that. It’s the best feeling because you work so many years and all you really want to do is ski in a race like you do in training. That first run was some of my best skiing. I’m really psyched to have done that in a race.”
Tuesday’s race was the last women's slalom of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games qualification period, and there are only three women’s slaloms left on the World Cup schedule. The U.S. Olympic alpine nominations will be announced Jan. 26.
The World Cup women move to Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy for downhill and super giant slalom Jan. 17-19.
Fourth in Tuesday’s slalom, Germany’s versatile Maria Hoefl-Riesch, 29, added 50 points and remained ahead in the overall World Cup women’s race 781-709 over Anna Fenninger of Austria, who doesn’t race slalom. Hoefl-Riesch is also the downhill leader and proving to be worthy successor to six-time downhill winner Vonn.
Shiffrin added 100 points to her overall total and moved from fifth place into fourth place with 614 points. Last winter, she finished fifth in the overall standings with 822 points behind winner Tina Maze, who led the way with an unbeatable 2,414.