In a stunning, milestone performance, Mikaela Shiffrin on Saturday won her first World Cup downhill race.
Shiffrin’s victory, at the Lake Louise resort in Alberta, was not only a career breakthrough, but a noteworthy defeat over her fellow American teammate and the most dominant women’s skier in history, Lindsey Vonn, who was 12th and trailed Shiffrin on Saturday by nearly a second.
Both are favored to earn medals at the Winter Olympics in February in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Shiffrin, 22, has almost exclusively competed in the shorter, slower and less risky slalom and giant slalom races and eschewed the more perilous dashes down the mountain known as the downhill and super-G. But this season, Shiffrin, a three-time world champion in slalom, decided to branch out to the other Alpine disciplines.
Typically, when a racer ventures into the downhill realm, it usually takes several seasons to master the intricacies of downhill technique. It also takes awhile to develop the nerve to barrel down a hill at 60 to 70 miles an hour. But the competition on Saturday was just Shiffrin’s fourth World Cup downhill race.
“I wasn’t planning to win,” Shiffrin said afterward. “But I felt pretty comfortable.”
Referring to one substantial mistake she made when she almost skied into a protective fence at the edge of the course, Shiffrin said with a laugh: “Yeah, I almost closed my eyes. I just high-fived the fence and got back on the course.”
Viktoria Rebensburg of Germany finished second and Switzerland’s Michelle Gisin was third.
Vonn was skiing one day after a hard crash in another downhill race at Lake Louise on Friday and appeared a little stiff on Saturday. She bruised her right hip sliding off the course before she slammed into rows of fencing.
Saturday’s race was also shortened after a delay of 1 hour 15 minutes because of a power failure caused by a substation fire. Racers were towed to the start on snowcat machines. Shiffrin said she thought the shorter course benefited her because the top portion that was eliminated was straighter and flatter, which had not played to her strengths in previous races.