Petra Vlhova held on to her opening-run lead to beat Mikaela Shiffrin on Saturday in a women’s World Cup slalom that was the American’s first race in nearly 10 months.
On a course set by her coach Livio Magoni, the Slovakian also posted the fastest time in the second run and extended her advantage over Shiffrin to 0.18 seconds.
“I tried to take this advantage that my coach set the course, and I did it,” Vlhova said. “It wasn’t easy, as it started snowing and also the course was a bit destroyed. But I did it and I am really happy. First victory in the first slalom of the season is always good.”
Austria’s Katharina Liensberger was 0.57 behind in third, while the rest of the field, led by Swiss racer Wendy Holdener, was at least 1.35 off the lead.
Slalom specialist Anna Swenn Larsson missed the race as the entire Swedish team quarantined after a COVID-19 test for one of its coaches came back positive.
Shiffrin hadn’t competed since January, as her previous season ended prematurely after the death of her father, Jeff Shiffrin, followed by the cancellation of the season-ending races amid the coronavirus outbreak. Then, she sat out the first race of the new season in Austria in October with a back injury.
“I enjoy a second place more than I did ever before,” said Shiffrin, a winner of 66 World Cup races, “because I felt I was pushing and having some good skiing. It was the best I could today. I feel I can be more proud of that than I used to be.”
Wearing bib No. 1, Shiffrin had opened the race in Finnish Lapland with an error-free run.
Vlhova trailed Shiffrin by 0.13 at the first split but was ahead of the American at all following check points before finishing 0.15 ahead.
In the final run, Vlhova initially extended her lead to 0.52 but lost over three tenths as she failed to match Shiffrin’s pace in the flat finish section.
“In the second run you start last and want to confirm you first run. That’s pressure. It was not a perfect run because I did some mistakes. But at the end it was green,” said Vlhova, referring to color in which leading times are displayed on a video-wall in the finish area.
In a streak that started in January 2017, the last 27 World Cup slaloms have all been won by either Shiffrin, with 19 wins, or Vlhova.
Vlhova won the season-long slalom title last year, edging Shiffrin by 20 points, after the American had won it six times in the previous seven seasons.
The pair continued their dominance in Saturday’s race.
“Nothing’s changed, but also everything’s changed,” Shiffrin said. “But it’s really fun to be here, to see everybody skiing. It’s fun to watch and for me it was fun to do.”
Federica Brignone, who ended Shiffrin’s three-year reign as overall champion last season, was 1.61 behind after the opening run but failed to finish her second and didn’t score World Cup points.
Italian teammate Marta Bassino, who won the season-opener last month, finished more than three seconds behind in 18th.
Other racers for the U.S., Paula Moltzan, Nina O’Brien, and Resi Stiegler, failed to qualify for second run. Lila Lapanja was disqualified first run.
For the Canadians, Lawrence St. Germain had an outstanding result in sixth place, her career-best slalom finish. Erin Mielzynski was 15th, and Amelia Smart was 25th.
“I’m really stoked about my race. To put two good runs together like that for the first race of the season, I really wasn’t expecting to do so well,” St. Germain said. “I’m really happy I skied well both runs on the flats and I know I can improve on the pitch for tomorrow and hopefully do even better.”
A limited number of spectators were allowed at the race.
Another women’s slalom is scheduled for Sunday.
World Cup – Women’s Slalom – Levi, Finland – Nov. 21, 2020