Mielzynski 3rd in Zagreb slalom

Rising star Erin Mielzynski secured the second World Cup podium of her career Friday as part of a superb team performance which saw three Canadians finish in the top 10 at the ‘Snow Queen’ night slalom in Zagreb, Croatia.

Mielzynski, of Guelph, Ont. – who earlier this year became the first Canadian since 1971 to win a World Cup slalom – put together two solid runs in challenging conditions to finish third.

Her teammates Marie-Michèle Gagnon, of Lac-Etchemin, Que., and Brittany Phelan, of Mont-Tremblant, Que., were eighth and 10th, respectively, to give the Canadian ladies’ team three top-10 finishers in a World Cup race for the first time since 2008, when Emily Brydon, Kelly VanderBeek and Britt Janyk were third, fourth and sixth in the downhill in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy. It’s also the first time Canada’s ladies team has had three women in the top 10 in a World Cup slalom.

“It’s amazing,” said the 22-year-old Mielzynski. “I wear my emotions on my sleeve and I knew I had to take some steps this year to get on the (podium). It’s great to have this to build my confidence and remind me what it takes. I just want to learn from every experience and I learned a lot from today.

“We had three Canadians in the top 10 and I’m so happy for ‘Mitch’ (Gagnon) and Britt, too. Now the men’s team can come and do the same thing (in Sunday’s slalom).”

Mielzynski sat fifth after a solid first run on a tough course, which was long and difficult due to ruts appearing in several sections.

“I came into today just wanting to simplify things,” said Mielzynski, who was 18th in her last slalom in Semmering, Austria, on Dec. 29 after finishing fifth in Are, Sweden, just before Christmas. “I think I’ve been trying to find a race gear that I don’t necessarily need to find.”

Mielzynski crossed the line in first place at the end of a solid second run and watched the next four racers go down from the leader’s box. Two did not finish their second run to ensure Mielzynski secured her second career World Cup podium.

“In the first run I was fifth and in the second run I tried to keep it simple. The course was really difficult so I just tried to keep it together from top to bottom,” said Mielzynski, who clocked a two-run combined time of two minutes, 3.49 seconds. “It was great seeing the green (leader’s) light at the bottom. I had a bit of a wait after that but it was amazing.”

Jim Pollock, head coach of the ladies’ technical team, was delighted with another strong team showing – after Canada had four ladies in the top 30 in Semmering.

“I’m very pleased. I’m proud of the team – staff and athletes,” Pollock said. “We knew it was coming. I think the girls were maybe trying too hard before but they are starting to build confidence and ski down from top to bottom. They didn’t panic – they stuck to the plan.

“We sent Erin to the (dual slalom event in Munich), just to change her focus, and Mitch had some more training and I think it worked well. It’s a great result.”

Friday’s race was won by USA’s teen sensation Mikaela Shiffrin, who won both runs to take the victory by 1.19 seconds with a two-run combined time of 2:01.73. Sweden’s Frida Hansdotter was second (2:02.92), while Slovenia superstar Tina Maze didn’t finish her second run. Shiffrin now leads the overall slalom World Cup standings with 336 points and Maze is second with 310. Mielzynski is ninth (151 points) and Gagnon is tied for 15th (82).

Gagnon, who has been searching for confidence after a slight dip in form, hurt her ankle earlier this week and was a doubt for the race.

“I sprained it two days ago running around Zagreb,” explained Gagnon, 23. “I sprained it really bad and it was really, really swollen. But (physiotherapist) Jenny (Delich) was amazing. She did so much work on it. She taped it up and I just shoved it into the boot.”

Gagnon was 18th after a hesitant first run, during which she tested out her sore ankle, but she was fifth-fastest in the second run to clock a two-run combined time of 2:05.08.

“I didn’t know how it would feel,” Gagnon said of her ankle. “In the warm up there were big holes (in the course) and it was hurting a lot. First run I was definitely tentative but I’m really happy with the second run. I still made crazy mistakes and there’s always things to learn but overall I’m really happy and I’m really happy for Erin and Britt.”

Phelan, who is having a career year, notched up her fifth consecutive top 30 result of the season with a career-best 10th-place finish. She was 11th after the first run and stayed on her feet in the second run to move up one place.

Ève Routhier, of Sherbrooke, Que., was 32nd after the first run and didn’t qualify for the second run. Elli Terwiel, of Sun Peaks, B.C., did not finish her first run.

“What a day. We have three girls in the top 10 – just incredible,” said Hugues Ansermoz, head coach of Canada’s ladies’ team.