American Mikaela Shiffrin is making a surprising return to the women’s International Ski Federation Alpine Ski World Cup this weekend as she journeys to Courchevel, France, to participate in a giant slalom event for the first time this season.
Shiffrin, 25, won the 2019 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships giant slalom crystal globe and finished third in the standings last season before the campaign was called off early due to COVID-19.
Starting in February, her father’s unexpected death, a back injury, and COVID-19 protocols kept her off the mountain for nearly nine months. She hasn’t skied or trained on downhill or super-G since January, and was previously planning to take December to heal and train, especially for speed races.
But suddenly, she’s back.
A lot is on the line as the Vail native is looking to become the second US woman to win the giant slalom globe multiple times after Tamara McKinney, winner of four World Cup season titles and the 1983 overall, did it almost forty years ago.
Shiffrin’s Odds Speak to Whether She’s in Top Shape
BetMGM has Shiffrin’s (+700) odds long in France this weekend because nobody knows what kind of shape she’ll be in when she returns to the start house. “Sir Naps a Lot” could come out roaring, or she could use the event to gauge where she’s at, and what the remainder of this season could look like.
But, if history tells us anything, the woman who has claimed a podium finish in eight of her last nine World Cup giant slalom races wouldn’t be there if she weren’t ready to go.
It’s important to note that, after several succesful seasons in France, Shiffrin’s only giant slalom off-podium finish of the last season was at Courchevel, where she finished 17th. Her return to avenge a flat performance may be part of her motivation.
Petra Vlhová Looks to Continue Streak at Courchevel
Slovak technical specialist Petra Vlhová (+450) continues to be a favorite, as she has been on the podium in all four World Cup events this season.
This weekend in France, Vlhová can win her fourth-consecutive women’s World Cup race across all disciplines. The last female skier to do that was Shiffrin in 2019.
Vlhová is also gaining steam in the giant slalom, with podiums in her last three World Cup events, starting with a third-place finish in Sölden at the season opener, a second-place finish in Kranjska Gora, and then a win Sestriere.
If Vlhová podiums this weekend, it will be the first time in the 25-year-old’s career that she’s been on the podium at four-consecutive events. Vlhová already holds the records for most World Cup event wins (17) and World Cup event podiums (38) by a skier representing Slovakia.
Speedy Italians Love the French Snow, Could Finish One, Two
Giant slalom specialist Italian Marta Bassino (+350) won the opening World Cup giant slalom race in Sölden.
With a win in France, the fifth-place finisher in the 2018 Olympics’ giant slalom can become the first female skier to win back-to-back World Cup races in this discipline since Shiffrin did it in 2019.
Italians have a recent history of burning up French snow as well. Four of Italy’s seven World Cup giant slalom winners earned their titles in France. Bassino, 27, finished seventh in Courchevel last season, and is a heavy favorite to improve on that.
Look for Bassino’s teammate, Federica Brignone (+350), to podium as well. Brignone loves this mountain, winning the World Cup giant slalom event at Courchevel last season. Only Shiffrin, with two, has won multiple giant slalom events at Courchevel over the last half-decade. Brignone finished second in the first giant slalom event in this World Cup season, and has been on the podium in four of the past six World Cup giant slalom events.
Long-Shot Picks Include 19-Year-Old Kiwi
Other notables include New Zealand’s Alice Robinson (+1,400), who at 19, can become the first woman in more than 30 years to win three World Cup giant slalom events before turning 20. Mateja Svet accomplished that feat in 1988.
Giant slalom specialist and 10-year World Cup veteran Wendy Holdener (+1,400) is also a dark horse as she aims to become the first Swiss skier since Lara Gut-Behrami to win a giant slalom event.