ST. MORITZ, Switzerland – Mikaela Shiffrin was in a world of her own on Saturday, extending her unbeaten record in slalom gold medal events.
The 2014 Olympic champion won her specialist event at a third straight ski world championships, and by a huge margin of 1.64 seconds.
Still aged just 21, the American star was nerveless, ruthless and stylish, turning a first-run lead of 0.38 over the home fans’ favorite Wendy Holdener into a rout. Frida Hansdotter of Sweden was third, trailing by 1.75.
“It happened almost as perfect as it could have,” Shiffrin said. “That was the way I imagined myself skiing the course.”
On crossing the finish line, Shiffrin gazed up for several seconds at the giant screen and then gulped in air on finally seeing the size of her victory.
“I didn’t want to celebrate until I knew for certain I had won,” she said. “But when I saw 1.6, I thought, ‘Is the time wrong?’ That was a really special moment.”
Swiss fans, who had loudly supported Holdener two minutes earlier, duly acclaimed the unbeaten champion.
“I heard the crowd cheering so loud,” Shiffrin recalled of her wait to start. “I was thinking, ‘Oh that’s cool, (Wendy) must be happy, but today is my day, not yours.’”
Minutes before her decisive run, Shiffrin was filmed keeping cool by sitting beneath an umbrella to find shade from the sunshine.
Her gold medal streak in slalom now includes each world championships she entered, and her only Winter Olympics.
Shiffrin’s victory also gave the United States its first world title at St. Moritz in the 10th of 11 medal events.
On a clear day and in perfect racing conditions, Shiffrin was 0.85 faster than any rival second time down.
Holdener added slalom silver to her gold medal in the combined event. Both her medals were won after Swiss star Lara Gut crashed out of the championships with a serious knee injury.
“It’s crazy,” Holdener said. “It wasn’t always easy, the pressure is here. I’m proud of myself.”
With Shiffrin also getting a silver medal in giant slalom, the U.S. team’s tally is three. Lindsey Vonn took bronze in downhill.
“I’m really excited with the silver in GS and today’s race is as good as it could be,” said Shiffrin, who was congratulated course-side by IOC President Thomas Bach.
Bach watched Shiffrin’s second run from the same VIP seats where Roger Federer saw Vonn race last Sunday.
“I am her best mascot,” Bach told The Associated Press. “Whenever I am at (ski) world championships, she is winning. So we were looking forward together for next year.”
Given good health, Shiffrin should arrive in South Korea next year among the biggest favorites for Olympic gold at the Pyeongchang Games.
Another of the skiing’s biggest honors is likely to be in Shiffrin’s hands next month.
She is the clear leader and strong favorite, since Gut’s injury, to claim her first giant crystal globe trophy — awarded to the best all-around skier in a grueling five-month World Cup season.
“There is a lot of work to do still, and there are some girls who are close enough that they can be dangerous,” Shiffrin cautioned.
Still, the World Cup finals week races in Aspen, Colorado, next month will be almost certainly another Shiffrin coronation.