ZAGREB (AFP) – US teen Mikaela Shiffrin and Slovenia’s overall leader Tina Maze will be the focus in Sunday’s World Cup women’s slalom race in the Croatian capital.
The event is being staged at Sljeme, the mountain peak overlooking Zagreb, where Croatia’s skiing stars — the Kostelic siblings — made their debuts.
Reigning Olympic and world champion Shiffrin from Vail, Colorado, seems to be getting into excellent shape for Zagreb after winning at Kuhtai, Austria on Monday. It was her first slalom podium this season.
“I like this slope a lot, it is long. You have to invest a lot of effort and give the maximum. I’m excited and hope for a great race and excellent atmosphere,” Shiffrin told Croatian state-run HRT television.
The 19-year-old American won the Sljeme race in 2013 while last year’s event was cancelled due to unfavourable weather conditions.
In the World Cup slalom standings, after four races, Shiffrin is currently fourth with 219 points.
In the overall standings, after 13 races, she is third with 445 points.
Her main rival and Olympic champion Maze is leading the overall standings with 732 points.
Like Shiffrin, the 31-year-old Slovenian has one win in slalom this season, but has never won at Sljeme.
On Sunday, the hosts will be represented by four skiers, but expectations are far removed from the days of glory when Janica Kostelic, the first woman to win four golds in Olympic skiing history, was competing.
Croatians are emotional when it comes to the race due to Janica and her brother Ivica, both born in Zagreb, who made their first skiing steps at the venue with their father and coach Ante.
Janica retired from competitive skiing in 2007 at the age of 25 due to long-standing health and injury problems.
Sunday’s women slalom is dubbed the Snow Queen Trophy in honour of Janica who was known as the “Snow Queen.” The winner also receives a crystal crown.
Ivica Kostelic, a former World Cup champion and serial Olympic silver-medallist, has stayed in competitive skiing.
However, the 35-year-old’s results this season have been modest.
The 2011 World Cup winner has also endured a series of health problems notably with his right knee.