ARE, Sweden (AP) — Moments after winning her record-tying 86th World Cup race, Mikaela Shiffrin was asked by a Swedish broadcaster to directly address Ingemar Stenmark, the skiing standout who had promised to watch at home on television.
From one great to another, the 27-year-old American spoke to the 66-year-old Swede of her respect for him and the historic mark he set in 1989 that was long thought to be beyond reach.
“No matter what I do, it doesn’t ever compare to what you achieved,” Shiffrin said into the TV6 camera from the lakeside resort. “Maybe I get the 87th victory, maybe not. But for me the biggest dream is to be mentioned in the same sentence as you.”
Shiffrin matched the Swede’s mark by winning a giant slalom on Friday. She can break the record on Saturday in a slalom race. Those are her specialties, just as they were for Stenmark in the 1970s and 80s.
The reverence between the two goes both ways. Stenmark told The Associated Press in an interview last month that Shiffrin is “much better than I was.”
She was certainly good Friday, especially in a standout first run that was the platform for yet another dominating win in her storied career. Her time in the morning sunshine was more than one second faster than her highest-ranked rivals and eventually left her with a lead of 0.58 seconds to defend in second run.
Clearly pleased with her skiing in the opening run, Shiffrin smiled and said “yeah” to herself after seeing her time in the finish area.
“It’s one of the few runs in my life where, while I was skiing it, I was thinking, ‘This is good,’” Shiffrin told TV6.
Shiffrin went out more cautiously under the floodlights in the fast-darkening afternoon, tapping her ski poles together four times in the start hut before setting out with 1.04 seconds in hand over then-leader Federica Brignone.
The lead was cut to 0.57 seconds midway down the slope before Shiffrin skied cleanly in sections where Brignone’s aggressive pushing had led to mistakes. The winning margin was 0.64 seconds.
Shiffrin crossed the finish line and put her hands to her helmet, then to her face and shook her head slowly while taking in the enormity of her achievement.
“This is just a spectacular day. Oh my goodness,” she said in a course-side interview.
It was Shiffrin’s fourth straight wire-to-wire win in World Cup giant slaloms since January. In that time, she also took gold in the event at last month’s world championships in Meribel, France.
“When I was little I would never have believed some day I would be in this position,” Shiffrin later told Swiss broadcaster SRF. “The whole day I was trying not to focus on that.”
Shiffrin’s 86th victory came in her 245th World Cup race, and on the fifth attempt to equal Stenmark’s record since she won her 85th race in January.
“It’s been on my mind. It’s been quite tough to focus the last few weeks,” said Shiffrin, who hugged her mother and coach, Eileen, in the finish area.
Brignone made a theatrical bow toward Shiffrin in the finish-area ceremony. The podium included Olympic champion Sara Hector of Sweden, who finished 0.92 seconds behind in third.
Shiffrin also clinched the season-long World Cup giant slalom title to secure her 15th career crystal globe trophy. She already won her fifth overall World Cup title and the slalom title this season.
Making even more World Cup history Friday, Shiffrin’s 20th career victory in the giant slalom — six of them this season — matched the all-time women’s mark held by Vreni Schneider.
Schneider got her wins between 1984 and 1992. The Swiss racer, like Shiffrin, also has Olympic and world championship gold medals in both giant slalom and slalom.
Shiffrin won her first World Cup race in Are, a slalom in December 2012, and then earned two gold medals at the 2019 worlds at the Swedish resort. It was also where she was due to race again in March 2020 after the death of her father the previous month, but the races were called off because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“I’ve had a quite a few different experiences here,” Shiffrin said after her first run on Friday. “I have felt everything you can feel here so it’s special to be back.”
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