ASPEN, Colo. (AP) – American Mikaela Shiffrin is leading after the first run of a slalom Sunday, chasing her first World Cup victory in her home country.
The Olympic slalom champion smoothly traversed a tame course and finished in 49.46 seconds. Shiffrin leads Tina Maze of Slovenia by 0.11 seconds heading into the final run. Kathrin Zettel of Austria is third a day after taking second in the giant slalom.
Shiffrin has 10 World Cup wins – nine in slalom – and all have come in Europe. Her best performance in the U.S. was second place in a giant slalom last season in Beaver Creek, Colorado, near her hometown.
PHOTO GALLERY: Vail’s Mikaela Shiffrin At The World Cup In Aspen
Lately, she’s been spending extra time training for the giant slalom and super-G, which has come at the expense of her specialty, the slalom. She’s relying on muscle memory, though, in front of a partisan audience.
“You have to do (slalom) every day in order to feel perfect at it,” said Shiffrin, who signed autographs and took pictures with fans for quite a while following her first run. “I had to go back into my repertoire of my very best runs, in my career, in my life – going back, like, two years – and thinking about the best skiing I’ve had and the mentality I’ve had.
“My slalom, it’s there. It’s in my muscles. I’ve been doing (slalom) for so long, I know I can do it. It’s a matter of not letting the nerves impede my skiing.”
Maze turned in a fast run, too, nearly matching Shiffrin.
No surprise, given that Maze captured the opening slalom two weeks ago in Levi, Finland. Shiffrin wound up 11th that day.
The two-time Olympic champion Maze brought on board Italian coach Valerio Ghirardi in May to help polish her technique. Ghirardi once worked with Italian standout Isolde Kostner.
“We didn’t change a lot on the technical side,” Ghirardi said. “We worked especially to have fun in the training.”
Technically, Zettel is the defending slalom champion in Aspen, since she won the race at this venue in 2012. The competition wasn’t held in Aspen last season.
This course has always suited Zettel, who’s been on the podium nine times at this site.
“It’s just perfect conditions and lovely for me,” Zettel said. “It’s not icy, so you need to carve it.”
The surprise of the morning session was the run of American Resi Stiegler, who started 25th and charged all the way up to 11th, 1.31 seconds behind Shiffrin. She said the key was replaying “sappy athlete movies in my head” to take her mind off the nerves.
“That was awesome,” Stiegler said.
– By Pat Graham, AP Sports Writer
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