Who is Petra Vlhova? Slovak skier who ended Shiffrin's slalom streak
Who is Petra Vlhova?
The Slovak finally ended Mikaela Shiffrin's stranglehold in World Cup slalom by defeating her American rival in Flachau, Austria. She had previously finished second behind Shiffrin in five races this year.
It was the third victory and ninth podium finish this season for the 23-year-old Vlhova, who is proving to be Shiffrin's biggest threat on the circuit.
The Olympic Channel spoke to Vlhova's coach Livio Magoni to find out how she trains and what her relationship with Shiffrin is like.
Youth Olympic Games beginnings
Vlhova is a native of Liptovský Mikuláš in north-central Slovakia.
Born in 1995, she began skiing after her parents discovered her talents.
Her international breakthrough came in 2012, when she was still 16, as she was selected to represent her country in the inaugural Winter Youth Olympic Games in Innsbruck.
There, she won slalom gold, before adding a junior world championships bronze the following month.
Later that year, she made her senior World Cup debut, eventually finishing 42nd in the slalom standings.
Watch Petra Vlhova win Youth Olympic Games gold in 2012:
World Cup challenger
Vlhova has established herself as a challenger on the World Cup circuit in recent years.
She finished sixth in the slalom standings in 2016 and has been in the overall top ten in the last two seasons.
This improvement in form has coincided with her working under Italian coach Magoni, who joined her team after the 2015/16 season.
Speaking to the Olympic Channel, Magoni acknowledged Vlhova's progression has been impressive. "I’ve been working with her for the last three years and she has had a constant growth.
"When we started to work together, our target was to be in the top five in slalom and try to beat the best."
In the last two seasons under her coach, the skier has finished fifth and fourth in the slalom rankings. So far this year, she's second in both the overall and slalom — behind only her big rival Shiffrin.
Vlhova's training resources
No Slovak skier has won more World Cup races than Vlhova, who overtook Veronica Velez-Zuzulova for that accolade this season.
But her three wins this year — a giant slalom at Semmering, Austria, and a city parallel slalom in Oslo, Norway, in addition to her Flachau slalom — have come despite training without the resources that other athletes from more established skiing nations can count on.
During a recent visit to Zagreb, Croatia, where Vlhova finished behind Shiffrin (who else?) in a slalom race, Magoni and his charge decided to do some gym work in an underground car park.
"We like to train outside of a gym, even during the summer," the Italian explained.
"Skiing is an outdoor sport and I think it’s not good to confine yourself to four walls. A top skier needs to adjust to the different situations he faces.
"When I work on her fitness I often come up with new exercises which are functional for her and her weaknesses, it’s a constant work in progress."
WATCH: Alpine skier Petra Vlhova trains in car park in Zagreb
Magoni acknowledged that things aren't always easy, considering the resources available to many of Vlhova's rivals.
"You need a lot of heart and passion, because money is not enough to win races. With our little budget we are trying to look after every small detail."
He has gone as far as to water a training run to make it more icy for Vlhova, doing so ahead of the parallel slalom in St. Moritz, Switzerland, on 9 December. (Shiffrin beat Vlhova in the big final.)
"I’m her coach, not her friend. Sometimes we don’t speak for days."
"I need to be hard and honest when things are not going well until something clicks in her head."
That honesty came to the fore in Flachau, where Vlhova prevented Shiffrin from winning what would have been a record-tying eighth straight slalom race.
"Ten seconds before she started, I told her via radio, 'The American (Shiffrin) is 1.5 m ahead of you, just keep looking 1.5 m ahead of you and try to catch up with her.'
"I didn’t talk about technique or about the course, those words were enough to push her."
Respect and rivalry with Shiffrin
Shiffrin, who's the same age as Vlhova, has already broken the all-time record for World Cup slalom wins, as well as becoming the youngest athlete to win 50 races across all disciplines.
But Magoni believes the two are on par.
"For me they are at the same level. It's a very good and honest relationship, they respect each other."
For her part, Olympic giant slalom champ Shiffrin agrees Vlhova is a big threat.
"I know that I can't win every race. It's a big fight with Petra. Every time I’m there, she’s also right there."
"That's motivating ... not records or numbers, but skiing my best and fighting out there."
Shiffrin is aiming for a fourth straight slalom World Championships title in Åre, Sweden, next month, in addition to battling across all five disciplines in the World Cup.
Whereas Vlhova, who finished a disappointing 13th in the slalom at PyeongChang 2018, is keeping her goals straightforward.
"After what happened at the Olympics, we don’t have any particular expectation for the World Championships and we need to consider them like a normal race. It’s not our main goal," Magoni admitted.
The big target is to win the crystal globe for being the best slalom racer on the circuit. There's just one problem: Shiffrin's five wins to start the season currently sees her 80 points clear of Vlhova.
"We need to hope she makes mistakes," Magoni agrees.
"Although we would prefer to win on our own merits."