Sweden’s Lindell-Vikarby denies U.S. teen a win in giant slalom
As she glided closer and closer to the finish line, American skier Mikaela Shiffrin heard the roars, the ringing cow bells and the raucous music from the loud speaker.
Spurred on, she turned it on.
And when Shiffrin crossed the line, the roaring took on new life as her name appeared at the top of the scoreboard.
Up top in the starting gate, Jessica Lindell-Vikarby of Sweden, the last skier left, heard it all. She knew Shiffrin had done something special.
Then she went out and spoiled the party. Lindell-Vikarby won a World Cup giant slalom Sunday, holding off the 18-year-old Shiffrin with a fluid final run.
The Swede finished the two runs on a demanding Beaver Creek course in 2 minutes, 17.92 seconds, with Shiffrin 0.09 seconds behind. Tina Weirather of Liechtenstein took third.
All the noise down low didn’t appear to rattle Lindell-Vikarby, who won a World Cup race for the first time since 2009.
"I tried to stay focus and do my own run," she said. "I can’t do anything else than just ski."
There was not a trace of disappointment from Shiffrin, though. She was quite pleased with her first top-three finish in the event.
After all, Shiffrin is a slalom specialist who just recently started working on improving her giant slalom technique. Being this quick, this fast was something she didn’t expect, even if it is her favorite hill, with her home about 10 minutes away.
Her solid performance salvaged an otherwise forgettable weekend for the Americans as the team struggled at Beaver Creek.
"I followed through with my plan. I really just wanted to go out and ski as well as I could today," Shiffrin said. "I’m really happy with how today went."
The teenager was accorded the Lindsey Vonn treatment by the large crowd. They cheered the skier from nearby Eagle-Vail by ringing bells and holding up signs with her picture on it.
Shiffrin could very well be the face of the Sochi Games for the U.S., especially with Vonn trying to come back from a right knee injury following a recent crash in training.
This was a difficult course, too, with Lara Gut of Switzerland struggling and failing to finish the first run. Gut won the downhill and super-G the previous two days.
"Of course, I’m a bit angry after today," Gut said. "But it’s even better than I could’ve imagined."
Shiffrin placed sixth in the GS in Soelden, Austria, in October for what was her best World Cup result in the event. But she knew she could ski better.
This time, she went for it. After finishing her run, Shiffrin pumped her fist. Then she took off a ski, pumping that in the air, too.
With only Lindell-Vikarby left, a win looked very possible.
It wasn’t to be. Not on this day.
Between runs, Shiffrin watched video of Lindell-Vikarby’s run and had a feeling she was going to throw down another fast one.
"I knew that going out of the gate and had to give it my all," Shiffrin said.
In the week leading to the race, Shiffrin kept a low profile. But she couldn’t avoid the spotlight after Sunday, not after this kind of performance. Little kids lined the fence begging for her autograph. Shiffrin happily obliged.
"It’s awesome to be here, feel the crowd and see everybody so excited about skiing," Shiffrin said.
After winning the World Cup overall slalom title last season, Shiffrin decided to branch out over the offseason and work on her GS.
"My only expectation is to ski as well as I can," Shiffrin said. "Try to put my training into the races. The biggest bummer is coming down in a race and thinking that I left something on the hill. I’m trying to not do that, ever."
No reason to fear that at Beaver Creek.
"She’s a phenom," said Bill Marolt, the president and CEO of U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association. "She has the athletic ability, the mental tenacity to do what she’s done and will continue to do."
It wasn’t a stellar weekend for Julia Mancuso or the rest of the U.S. skiers. They couldn’t gain traction on their home hill. Apart from Shiffrin, no American finished in the top 10.
"When things are going fast, it feels easy. When things are going bad, you feel like you want to give up," Mancuso said. "But it’s definitely one of those sports where one thing can click and you can go from being in last to winning. And I’ve done it myself. I’ve gone from 50th place in a downhill and won the next one.
"It’s tough. Ski racing’s one of those things you have to keep fighting. If you’re off by just a little bit, it adds up every gate. But it’s definitely the right direction."