LEVI, Finland (AP) — Dealing with a bruised bone in her left knee after a training crash 11 days ago, Mikaela Shiffrin would have been happy with second place.
But it turned out even better for the American.
Petra Vlhova, who led Shiffrin by 0.76 seconds after the first run of a World Cup slalom Sunday, looked set for another clear victory.
A day after dominating Saturday’s race on the same hill, Vlhova extended her big lead to more than a second, but then straddled a gate in the steep section midway down the Levi Black course.
Waiting in the finish area, Shiffrin looked up to the course in disbelief when her long-term rival in slalom didn’t come down.
“Really bad luck for her,” Shiffrin said about Vlhova’s mishap. ”I did earn a podium, so I was actually pretty satisfied with second place. After the last 10 days, I was like: ‘OK! Good, step by step, every day better.’”
Shiffrin’s win followed a week in which the American had to reduce her time on snow after the training crash.
“If anything, it proves that I have a good mindset to fight, still,” Shiffrin said. “After the last 10 days, it has been a little bit of a struggle to imagine even racing, so this means a lot to the whole team.”
Still, Shiffrin stressed that her victory came amid a dominant performance from Vlhova.
“Petra really did a masterclass in slalom skiing this weekend. And she was by far ahead. In my mind, she earned this victory and I’m quite lucky to have it,” said the American, who secured her record-extending 89th career World Cup win.
“It’s a little bittersweet. I’m really happy with the victory, but I have to give her the credit. She earned it, probably a second and a half by the bottom, at least.”
Shiffrin finished 0.18 ahead of Leona Popovic of Croatia, who was fastest in the final run and earned her second career podium result, and 0.30 ahead of third-placed Lena Duerr of Germany.
The result marked the first top-three result of the season for Shiffrin. The American won 14 races last season and her fifth overall title.
Shiffrin started the new campaign with a sixth place in a giant slalom in Austria two weeks ago and finished fourth in Saturday’s first slalom, when Vlhova posted the fastest time in both runs to win by a big margin of 1.41 seconds over Duerr.
“It was amazing to watch her ski these two days,” Shiffrin said of Vlhova.
This weekend’s result gave Shiffrin an early lead in both the slalom and the overall World Cup standings.
It was Shiffrin’s record seventh win in Levi, where no skier other than her or Vlhova has won the traditional season-opening slalom since 2016.
The victory earned the American a seventh reindeer — a traditional prize the winner receives after the race in Finnish Lapland. The animals remain on a local farm in Finland.
Slalom world champion Laurence St-Germain bounced back from a disappointing showing Saturday, when she failed to qualify for the second run. On Sunday, St-Germain finished seventh, one place behind Canadian teammate Ali Nullmeyer.
Katharina Liensberger, the 2021 winner of the slalom World Cup and world title who got her first podium in nearly two years Saturday, shared eighth with Wendy Holdener of Switzerland.
Shiffrin will skip the two cross-border Zermatt-Cervinia downhills in Switzerland and Italy next week. The men’s races on the Matterhorn mountain were canceled this weekend due to heavy snowfall and strong winds.
The American’s next races are in Killington, Vermont, on Nov. 25-26.
“Going home is wonderful, but it’s not the ideal circumstances to go into the home races,” said Shiffrin, referring to her bruised knee.”
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