KILLINGTON, Vt. — Sometimes making a mistake can be a good thing in ski racing.
On Saturday, Viktoria Rebensburg made what she called “a really big mistake” on her second run in the World Cup giant slalom at Killington. To compensate, she had only one option.
“You know you have to charge full now, there is no other thing than going 100 percent. It’s a really good feeling for an athlete because sometimes mistakes do make you faster,” she said after outdueling crowd favorite Mikaela Shiffrin for her second consecutive World Cup GS victory.
“I almost skied out after the first pitch,” said Rebensburg, who is from Germany. “Then I told myself OK now you have to give it all you have, because otherwise you’ll have no chance to win the race.”
Shiffrin, skiing second-to-last, briefly seized the lead with a dazzling second run. But Rebensburg was even better, expanding on the lead (.29 seconds) she established in the first run and winning by .67 seconds. Shiffrin was second and Manuela Moelgg of Italy third.
As the defending World Cup overall champion, Shiffrin faces enormous pressure every time she clicks into her skis, but it is amplified in New England, where she was a student at Burke Mountain Academy and has family in the region. When her turn came in Saturday’s second run, the sizable crowd (18,000) reached its loudest – cheering when she was announced, chanting “U-S-A!, U-S-A!” as she stepped to the start line, and roaring as she reached the final descent to the finish area.
But on this day, Shiffrin, who often mentions how nervous she gets before races, was at ease.
“I actually got a message on Instagram, a direct message from a girl who said like we’re not here to watch you win, we’re just here to support you, we’re just here to watch ski racing, we’re so excited, so I hope you don’t feel pressure from us. I read this message and I was like that made me feel so much better,” Shiffrin said.
For a short time, fans had what they wanted. Then Rebensburg, the 2010 Olympic gold medalist in giant slalom, flew down the final stretch, called Preston’s Pitch. She credited Shiffrin’s emergence in giant slalom – her speciality is slalom – as a motivating factor.
“She is really stepping up, the last year, in GS, so she was pushing really hard there. That’s also a reason why she won the overall. But I knew in the second run that I had to push as hard as I could, because she would also try to do that,” Rebensburg said.
Shiffrin posted three giant slalom victories last season en route to the World Cup overall title but was fifth at Killington in 2016. She spoke on Friday night about wanting to do “some of my best skiing” this weekend, and on Saturday felt good about her performance.
“Today was definitely a step closer to the mentality that I need to have every race, but it wasn’t easy getting out of a dark place, I had to go and put my headphones in and block everybody out,” she said.
Shiffrin also knows her status as one of the biggest names in ski racing means her competition brings its best to every race.
The World Cup event at Killington concludes on Sunday with women’s slalom. Shiffrin is the defending champion.
“Sometimes I feel like I have a target on my back. Right now, I feel like I’m chasing a little bit,” she said. “I was second in the first slalom of the season, fifth in the opening GS. Today was definitely a better performance, but I still feel like I’m chasing, which is actually my favorite place to be.”