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Cortina d’Ampezzo (BL), 20 February 2021 – Katharina Liensberger (AUT) will leave the 2021 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships as a major new star of the sport after adding the women’s slalom crown to her parallel giant slalom title on Saturday.
The 23-year-old was imperious throughout, recording the fastest times in both runs on the Druscié A slope, to take gold by a full second from Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova as she finished in a combined time of one minute, 39.50 seconds.
Pre-race favourite Mikaela Shiffrin (USA), who was chasing a record fifth successive slalom world title, finished third, having struggled to stay in touch with Liensberger on the high-tempo opening run.
“It is unbelievable that I am ahead by one second,” said Liensberger, who was 0.3 seconds faster than Vlhova in the morning and a huge 1.30 seconds ahead of Shiffrin.
“In the race it felt like flying a little bit, just getting faster with every gate and putting all the energy into each turn,” the Austrian added.
Liensberger had never led after an opening slalom run at a world championships or on the World Cup circuit, let alone finished it off with victory. But following five podium places in the five World Cup slalom races this season, she made the leap when it really mattered.
“I really, really wanted the gold medal, especially in slalom. It was so often so near and so close,” Liensberger said. “My plan for today was to ski with enthusiasm and heart. In the end it was enough for gold.”
Vlhova, who took bronze in the 2019 world championships ahead of Liensberger in fourth, was typically powerful in the second run. But the current overall and slalom World Cup standings leader leaves the 2021 world championships without a gold to her name.
“Of course I wanted more, maybe to take gold today because I feel good in slalom but it was not enough today because Katharina, she was really fast. She skied perfect today” said Vlhova, who also took silver in the Alpine combined.
“Maybe first run I did a few mistakes and maybe I could [have] risked more,” added the Slovakian, who has won three of this season’s five World Cup slalom races.
It was a similar situation for Shiffrin. While gold would have given the 25-year-old a seventh world title, moving her equal-second in the list of all-time most decorated world championship skiers, behind only Germany’s Christl Cranz, the US racer never felt at her best.
“I wish I had a better feeling in my first run but I think there was no situation where I came away with anything but bronze today,” Shiffrin said.
Bronze means Shiffrin leaves the Dolomites having won a medal in all four races she entered – gold in the Alpine combined, silver in the giant slalom and bronze in super-G and slalom – extending her extraordinary run to 11 medals from 13 starts in five world championships.
“[To win] four medals is incredible this world champs,” she said. “But it’s even more special to see the level of skiing that’s here right now and that everybody’s trying to push, and that’s really cool.”
Wendy Holdener (SUI), one of those to have been competing at the elite level longer than Shiffrin, finished fourth, dropping out of the medal positions after recording just the eighth-fastest second run. It means a first world championships without a medal for the Swiss skier since the Vail/Beaver Creek edition in 2015.
While Holdener may feel disappointed with her fourth-place finish, unheralded Andreja Slokar (SLO) will be buzzing. The 23-year-old is currently ranked 42 in the 2020/21 World Cup slalom season standings with a career-best slalom result of 23rd in Flachau, Austria in January. But starting from bib 31, the Slovenian jumped to 17th after the morning run before producing easily the best skiing of her life to record the second-quickest time of the afternoon and finish fifth overall.
Slokar will no doubt look to carry that form into the World Cup when it resumes in Val di Fassa on 24 February but it will be towards Liensberger that all eyes will now turn.