MERIBEL, France (AP) Marcel Hirscher is on the verge of making World Cup history, while Mikaela Shiffrin’s trophy cabinet is filling up quickly.
Hirscher is odds-on to win a record fourth straight overall title, and should seal it in Sunday’s slalom race – the last of the season-ending finals. Shiffrin, a 20-year-old American, sealed her third straight slalom title in style by winning Saturday’s race.
”I have had a lot of success so far in my career and I am grateful to all the support I’ve had so far,” Shiffrin said.
The men’s title is almost done, but the women’s World Cup globe is in the balance between defending champion Anna Fenninger of Austria and Slovenia’s Tina Maze, who won it the season before.
Fenninger leads by 18 points heading into Sunday’s giant slalom.
There is no such suspense in the men’s contest, and Hirscher should wrap it up in Sunday’s slalom.
The 26-year-old Austrian holds a commanding 60-point lead over his only rival, the burly Norwegian Kjetil Jansrud, who has never secured a podium in slalom.
Hirscher took a giant step toward his fourth overall title after placing fourth in Saturday’s GS, although Jansrud – the downhill and super-G champion – put some pressure on Hirscher with an 11th-place finish.
”In the second run (the pressure) was unbelievable … my knees were shaking more and more,” said Hirscher, who was sixth after the morning run. ”I was getting so nervous I thought, `Should I laugh, or should I cry?”’
Norwegian racer Henrik Kristoffersen won the race in style – beating Germany’s Fritz Dopfer by .79 seconds – but the focus was on Hirscher, who has already sealed this season’s GS title.
He is tied with Swedish great Ingemar Stenmark, American Phil Mahre and Italian Gustav Thoni in winning the World Cup three straight times.
Thoni won it four times overall, while Hirscher’s countryman Hermann Maier also won it four times and Luxembourg’s Marc Girardelli holds the record with five, but they were not consecutive wins.
”It was easier in 2012 because I was so crazy and stupid I never thought I would win this globe,” said Hirscher, who beat Switzerland’s Beat Feuz by 25 points that season.
Hirscher only has an outside chance of clinching a third straight slalom title, however, because he trails Germany’s Felix Neureuther by 55 points. But the remarkably consistent Hirscher is guaranteed a top-three position in GS and slalom for the fourth straight season.
Meanwhile, Ted Ligety, who has won the GS crystal globe five times, finished Saturday’s race in sixth. The 30-year-old American placed third in the GS standings this season for an eighth straight top-three finish.
Shiffrin, meanwhile, looks set to continue her slalom reign for years to come.
The Olympic and two-time world slalom champion beat her only remaining challenger Frida Hansdotter of Sweden by 0.05 to win her sixth race of the season and fifth in slalom. She had a commanding 90-point lead over Hansdotter going into the race, but stayed true to her attacking style rather than skiing safely to get into the points.
She was already looking ahead to winning her second GS race of the season on Sunday – with a little change in style.
”I have to learn to put some risk into my skiing, it’s something I want to practice tomorrow,” Shiffrin said. ”I want to have a little bit of a crazy run, not too crazy but the kind of run that Fenninger seems to have all the time, when she seems she can’t be stopped.”
Slovakia’s Veronika Velez Zuzulova placed third and Maze was fourth, picking up valuable points.
The 31-year-old Maze, who competes in all five disciplines, finished third in the slalom standings – 240 points adrift of Shiffrin.
The 25-year-old Fenninger has only one career top-20 finish in slalom, but decided to race Saturday to try to gain a few vital points, although she failed to score any when placing 23rd.
Sunday’s race, which pits world champion Fenninger against Olympic champion Maze, promises to be much closer.
Fenninger is also defending her GS crystal globe, and leads countrywoman Eva-Maria Brem by 86 points.