SOELDEN, Austria (AP) — Coming off a record-packed season, finishing sixth in the first World Cup race of the new campaign on Saturday couldn’t have pleased Mikaela Shiffrin.
But it didn’t upset her, either.
“The first (giant slalom) race of the season last year was Killington, and I was 13th. This year, I am sixth. It’s an improvement from the start last year,” Shiffrin told The Associated Press on Saturday after the season-opening GS on a sun-soaked Austrian glacier.
Shiffrin was 0.75 seconds off the lead and in fifth place after the opening run, and ultimately trailed Swiss winner Lara Gut-Behrami by 1.40 seconds.
“Of course, I won’t say that’s where I want to be. It’s just step-by-step and you never know where you stand until the first race,” the American two-time Olympic champion said. “And I think we have a direction of what we can improve. So, we’ll go to work on that.”
Shiffrin won 14 races last season, including the last five giant slaloms to set a women's record for most career GS wins with 21.
Her series of triumphs helped raise her overall win total to 88, surpassing in the process Swedish legend Ingemar Stenmark as the winningest skier, male or female, in World Cup history.
And she capped it off by winning her fifth overall title by a massive 989 points over Gut-Behrami.
On Saturday, Shiffrin failed to pick up where she left the previous season seven months ago.
She posted the second-fastest start time in the opening leg and avoided major mistakes in both runs, but still could not keep up with the pace of Gut-Behrami, Italy's Federica Brignone, and Slovakia's Petra Vlhova – a trio of former overall champions that formed the top three.
“Certainly, the top women today looked like they were ready to race,” Shiffrin said. “I felt like I’m in a good spot with my skiing, but I didn’t show my best skiing the whole race today.”
Shiffrin said she and her team — since the off-season led by head coach Karin Harjo — would study video footage and analyze where to gain speed ahead of the next GS, which is her Nov. 25 ‘home’ race in Killington, Vermont.
“I want to get the good turns more often, more dynamic, a little bit more race mode in the mentality, which I think is the biggest adjustment I need to make,” Shiffrin said.
“And it is a step-by-step process, which I accept more now in my career than I did maybe five years ago.”
While her previous season will be remembered for the string of records she set, Shiffrin recalled how she initially struggled in GS, a discipline she would ultimately dominate by winning seven of the 10 events.
“Last season, I didn’t want to start this race,” she said about the first GS in Killington in November 2022, a month after the traditional season opener in Austria had been canceled.
“I didn’t feel prepared at all last season. I was just hitting some rough patches with how I was skiing at that time. And it took me quite some time really until Semmering" at the end of December to be ready. "But then the rest of the season obviously was quite strong and consistent.”
On Saturday, American teammate Paula Moltzan posted the second-fastest time in a blistering final run that was 1.33 faster than Shiffrin's effort, and Moltzan improved from 28th to 11th.
It helped Shiffrin enjoy a race she never came close to winning.
“I don’t feel bad today. It’s a beautiful day and the race was exciting,” she said. “When I win, obviously, that’s exciting for a different reason, but watching the top women ski today was great.”
Eric Willemsen on Twitter: https://twitter.com/eWilmedia
AP skiing: https://apnews.com/hub/skiing