Outside of sprint running or swimming, slalom ski racing is one of the shortest games in sports. It took Mikaela Shiffrin just 58.47 seconds to flash through 63 gates drilled into the ice on Superstar and capture her 62nd slalom victory and her fourth consecutive win at the Killington World Cup on her second run. But what seemed like an eternity was the combined time she put between her and second-place finisher Petra Vhlova of Slovakia–a whopping 2.29 seconds—and 2.73 seconds ahead of Anna Swenn Larsson of Sweden over two runs.
To put that in perspective, in two seconds the earth travels 37 miles through space. It took Usain Bolt 9.58 seconds to do the fastest 100-yard dash in history. In ski racing terms, as Dan Leever, owner of Ski Racing Magazine put it: “If Mikaela was racing head to head with Petra Vhlova she would have been two or three gates ahead. In a slalom race, that’s huge.” In 2015 at the final World Cup of the season in Aspen, Shiffrin broke a 47-year record for a winning margin in a slalom race, putting 3.07 seconds between herself and the second-place finisher.
As Leever put it, the Killington course “was good for separation.” Meaning, that those skiers with the highest technical skills could navigate a course best described as icy, and could put on a bigger lead than usual on others. That separation can impact other racers. As Leever pointed out, “Under FIS rules, if a competitor’s overall time is more than eight percent greater than the winning time, irrespective of the rank achieved, no points will be awarded.” Shiffrin’s combined time was 1:50:45. Fortunately, even the last place finisher finished within that, but it was close.
There were spectacular wipeouts in both the first and second run. Federica Brignone, the Italian who took second in Saturday’s giant slalom, caught an edge then seemingly tripped over a gate, her entire body launching into the air like she’d been thrown by a bull, before skidding down the slope. In the first run, Paula Moltzan, the University of Vermont ski racer who has been finishing consistently in the top 20 on the World Cup in the last season, had a heartbreaking fall. Before she got thrown off balance, she was skiing fast enough to have earned fifth place. Canadian ski racer and recent University of Vermont grad Laurence St. Germain had a solid first run but scored a DNF on her second run. “It was tough,” she said after the race.
Watching Shiffrin, who said her first run had been “as close to perfect” as she thought it could be, was like watching a whole different sport. As others flashed their skis from one side to the other, swinging arms and tails to one side of a gate than forcibly slashing the opposite way, Shiffrin just flowed through the gates in a rhythm that was almost mesmerizing. While watching her on TV is one thing, standing at the bottom of Superstar, looking up at the rock-hard slope – one usually covered in moguls but now flat as a board—was something else.
“I’ve been working on the technical aspects that help keep me stable on a course like this while other racers might be going after it a bit. Still, it was pretty wild and I actually thought I was out of the course a few times. There’s always a parallel universe where I tomahawk down the course. But I could hear the crowd down at the base calling me in. I felt like they really, really carried me down the hill,” she said.
The cheers from the crowd, estimated at 19,000 on Saturday (and 6,000 for Friday’s night concer) rose to a deafening crescendo as Shiffrin just lengthened the 1.13 second lead she had from the first run.
“Killington is so special to me and you guys keep bringing it every year – freezing snow, sunshine, wind, ice…” she told Middlebury native and NBC announcer Doug Lewis who interviewed her on the podium.
Then, with snow starting to fall and the threat of a storm on the way, she hustled to catch a flight for Lake Louise and the next stop on her World Cup journey.
Opening photo by Brooks Curran