ZAGREB (Reuters) - World and Olympic champion Mikaela Shiffrin continued her impressive return to form with a dominant victory in the Snow Queen Trophy World Cup slalom in Zagreb on Sunday.
Winner of the last race of 2014 in the Austrian resort of Kuehtai, the 19-year-old American left her rivals gasping for air as she took her second win in a row in an aggregate time of one minute and 56.66 seconds.
Experienced Austrian Kathrin Zettel finished 1.68 seconds behind, while Norway’s Nina Loeseth was an enormous 2.79 adrift for the third podium place.
Shiffrin has won the last four runs she has started since making technical adjustments in training in mid-December, but still trails Sweden’s Frida Hansdotter by one point in the slalom World Cup.
“It is so cool to race again here, I was so disappointed the race had to be canceled last year as it’s one of my favorite events,” said Shiffrin, who won the Snow Queen crown in the Croatian capital the last time it was held two years ago.
”It looks like the harder the track, the better I handle it. The course was so icy it didn’t leave you any chance and many girls couldn’t cope.
“It was so slippery that if you didn’t do the right thing, you could lose a lot of time at every gate,” added the American, who looks right on schedule to defend her world championship title on home snow in Vail and Beaver Creek next month.
Thanks to her 11th slalom victory, Shiffrin equaled the record number of wins in the discipline by a skier under the age of 20.
Despite matching France’s Perrine Pellen’s record that has stood since the 1980s, Shiffrin made clear that entering the record books is not top of her agenda.
“Before Kuehtai, I realized that I needed to change my approach and focus on my skiing instead of the records,” said the American, who struggled after her victory in the season opener in Soelden in October.
”Something deep came out again during the second run in Kuehtai and I also understood than you didn’t have to overdo it every time.
“We worked so well in Santa Caterina during the break that I no longer ask myself any questions. My confidence is at the level it should be.”
Editing by Michael Hann/Alan Baldwin