ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) — Mikaela Shiffrin won the first women’s World Cup race of 2023 on Wednesday to move within one victory of Lindsey’s Vonn record.
Shiffrin dealt best with difficult course conditions to dominate a floodlit slalom and raise her career tally to 81 World Cup wins. She could match the best mark Thursday at another slalom on the same course.
American standout Vonn set the women’s record of 82 before retiring in 2019. The overall best mark is 86, from Swedish great Ingemar Stenmark.
“I’m happy, I’m incredibly happy. I mean, I had so much fun skiing today and it was really my best skiing both runs today,” said Shiffrin, who beat runner-up Petra Vlhová by 0.76 seconds.
The former overall champion of Slovakia had won the race on the outskirts of the Croatian capital the past three seasons.
The rest of the field finished more than 1.20 behind the American’s winning time.
“Nothing less than the best is going to work,” said Shiffrin, who already led after the opening run. “I was taking all the risk I needed and made it on the finish and that’s just an amazing feeling when it’s good enough.”
Shiffrin certainly has been more than just good enough in recent weeks.
The four-time overall champion stretched her winning streak to five races, which included three different events: super-G, giant slalom, and slalom.
Only two female racers have won more races in succession: Swiss skier Vreni Schneider won eight in 1988-89 and Germany’s Katja Seizinger won six in 1997.
Earlier, Shiffrin won back-to-back slaloms in Finland to start the 2022-23 season.
On Wednesday, Shiffrin stood up to the challenge to defend her first-run lead as the last starter on the deteriorating Crveni Spust course.
While no racers remained without mistakes, Shiffrin never got in real trouble in her final run. She even won time on Vlhová at every split and celebrated with both arms up after crossing the finish, followed by two fist pumps.
Shiffrin drew an unfavorable start number and began the opening run last among the top-seven ranked racers. But she did her best to keep the line between the gates, despite being bounced around by ruts and waves in the rather soft snow surface after days with temperatures of 10 to 15 degrees Celsius (50-59 Fahrenheit).
Shiffrin led Anna Swenn Larsson by 0.23 seconds. The Swede won her first World Cup slalom in November and dropped to third after the final run, swapping places with Vlhová.
Swiss skier Wendy Holdener, who won back-to-back slaloms this season, was 1.38 behind in fourth.
Austrian world champion Katharina Liensberger trailed by 0.86 in fourth after the first run but went off the course in her risky second effort and finished more than 10 seconds of the pace.
Paula Moltzan, who came runner-up to Shiffrin in a night race in Austria last week for the first American 1-2 finish in a women’s slalom in 51 years, was just 0.07 off the pace at the first split of the opening leg before straddling a gate and not finishing her run.