LEVI, Finland – Racing for the first time since January, Mikaela Shiffrin enjoyed second place behind Petra Vlhova in a World Cup slalom on Saturday, but still felt “very lucky” to finally get back into the starting gate.
“I enjoy second place more than ever before,” said Shiffrin, a 66 World Cup winner, “because I felt I was pushing and skiing well. It was the best I could today. I feel like I was there. can be prouder than before. “
Vlhova, the World Cup slalom champion from Slovakia, set the fastest times in both runs, beating the American by 0.18 seconds in Finnish Lapland, north of the Arctic Circle.
But for Shiffrin, the outcome wasn’t her main concern.
“It was really hard to imagine being here again and racing. And I hardly dared to imagine being on the podium, because you don’t want to be disappointed again ”, said the two-time Olympic and three-time general champion.
Shiffrin’s previous season ended prematurely after the death of her father, Jeff Shiffrin. That was followed by the cancellation of the season-ending races amid the coronavirus outbreak, and then she finished the first race of the new season in Austria in October with a back injury.
25-year-old Shiffrin had wondered if she wanted to continue her ski racing career, but after Saturday’s race, she sounded optimistic.
“I hope I can continue from here because I want to,” she said. “I felt very happy with skiing and racing today. I had fun and felt that I skied really well. After everything that’s happened it’s really cool to just be able to ski and get a podium, and get second place, that’s like, wow! “
Vlhova achieved her fourth slalom victory in a row on a course of her coach Livio Magoni.
“I tried to take advantage of the advantage my coach had set the course, and I did,” said Vlhova. “It was not easy because it started to snow and the track was also a bit destroyed. But I did and I am very happy. The first victory in the first slalom of the season is always good. ”
Austrian Katharina Liensberger was 0.57 behind in third place, while the rest of the field, led by Swiss racer Wendy Holdener, was at least 1.35 off the lead.
With bib no. 1, Shiffrin opened the race with a clear run.
Vlhova was 0.13 behind Shiffrin at the first split, but was ahead of the American at all subsequent checkpoints before finishing 0.15.
In the final run, Vlhova initially extended her lead to 0.52, but lost more than three tenths as she couldn’t match Shiffrin’s pace in the flat finish section.
“In the second run you start last and you want to confirm that you are running for the first time. That is busy. It wasn’t a perfect run because I made a few mistakes. But in the end it was green, ”says Vlhova, referring to the color in which the lead times are displayed on a video wall in the finish area.
In a series that began in January 2017, the last 27 World Cup slaloms have all been won by Shiffrin, with 19 wins, or Vlhova.
Vlhova won the all-season slalom title last year, beating Shiffrin by 20 points after the American won it six times in the previous seven seasons.
The pair continued their dominance in Saturday’s race.
“Nothing has changed, but everything has also changed,” said Shiffrin. “But it’s really nice to be here, to see everyone skiing. It is 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, trailed 1.61 after the opening round, but failed to finish her second and scored no World Cup points.
Italian teammate Marta Bassino, who won the season opener last month, finished 18th in more than three seconds.
Slalom specialist Anna Swenn Larsson missed the race when the entire Swedish team was quarantined after a COVID-19 test for one of his coaches was positive.
A limited number of spectators was allowed.
On Sunday there is another women’s slalom on the program.