Mikaela Shiffrin just misses World Cup slalom podium in Levi, Finland

Petra Vlhova posted a dominant, 1.41-second win as the Edwards skier finished in fourth

Mikaela Shiffrin speeds down the course during the first run the World Cup women's slalom race in Levi, Finland on Saturday.
Giovanni Auletta/AP photo

Since 2016, all 10 of the World Cup slalom events in Levi, Finland have been won by either Petra Vlhova or Mikaela Shiffrin. That trend continued Saturday, the first day of back-to-back competitions, as Shiffrin’s chief rival posted a statement win.

“I am really happy because you know, honestly I didn’t expect so much of a gap between me and Lena and Katharina,” Vlhova said after her dominant 1.41-second victory. The defending Olympic slalom champion’s combined two-run time on the 180-meter Levi Black course was 1 minute, 50.59 seconds. German Lena Duerr (1:52.00) finished second and a resurgent Katharina Liensberger (1:52.14) rounded out the podium as Shiffrin (1:52.29) was left 0.15-seconds off in fourth.

“You know I feel good, I am enjoying skiing and I feel confident,” Vlhova continued. “Of course before the race I’m a little bit under stress because you don’t know where you are but at the end, I won again here and it’s amazing.”

Petra Vlhova posted the fastest first and second runs at Saturday’s World Cup slalom in Levi, Finland.
Giovanni Auletta/AP photo

Vlhova — the slalom crystal globe winner in 2019-20 and 2021-22 — put herself in good position to become the sixth woman with 20-career World Cup slalom wins with her blistering 53.79-second first run. The 28-year-old Slovak held a 0.18-second advantage on Duerr and was 0.42 seconds up on Shiffrin, who sat in the bronze position at the halfway point.

“I feel quite happy with my first run,” the Edwards skier told the Associated Press in-between runs, adding that her recent training accident did not affect her in the race.

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“It’s not perfect, but it’s not holding me back from skiing strong,” she continued. “Last week, we did a really good job to push into a kind of training in the gym, trying different things, different loading. By Thursday, I was able to do a full intensity training session.”

Mikaela Shiffrin, left, and Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova stretch during the reconnaissance of the Levi Black course before the first run of the World Cup slalom event on Saturday in Levi, Finland.
Giovanni Auletta/AP photo

Last season, Shiffrin was on the podium in 10 of the 11 slalom events (including six victories), with the only exception coming in Killington, Vermont, where she placed fifth. Her success in Levi has been historic. Coming into the event, only her and Vreni Schneider (six in Maribor) had ever accrued six slalom wins at a single venue. Now, Vlhova also owns six reindeer — the prize given to winners at the Lapland resort sitting 170 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle.

Liensberger, who won the slalom globe during the 2020-21 season but struggled to a 15th-place finish last season, spiced up the competition from bib No. 21 with a fluid and fearless final dash. The 26-year-old was excellent in the third sector all morning; she recorded the second-fastest split on the first run and the fastest in the final. The three-time Olympic medalist was rewarded with a trip to the leader’s chair as the last three skiers prepared to enter the starting gate.

Shiffrin didn’t hold back through the upper portion of the course, emulating Liensberger’s style but still losing 0.08 seconds to the Austrian. She maintained a clean rhythm in the second sector, gaining back 0.14 seconds. In the transition portion of the course, however, Shiffrin was forced to salvage multiple turns, losing critical momentum right at the time where Liensberger was at her finest.

Regarding the day as a whole, Shiffrin said later she felt pleased to be able “to push” and “bring in a race mentality, race intensity, (and) really put energy into the turn.”

“Having said that … the training I had beforehand felt really great, but then it’s been 10 days, so the feeling’s not locked into my muscles right now,” she said.

“So in some ways, I felt like I was a little bit searching for the right line, searching for the right pressure.”

She diagnosed her “bobbles” on the second run as a result of not “getting into the committed enough position.”

“And sort of misdirecting myself, like shooting my skis across the hill when I should be more skiing down the hill,” she said.

Duerr, 32, the oldest athlete in the race, gained 0.06 seconds in the opening split but lost almost a half second in the next. In the third sector, she ceded another 0.60 seconds, but recovered enough on the final flat to kick Liensberger off the chair.

Though a neck-and-neck narrative had been written thus far, Vlhova would blow it up.

The Slovak, who has said she will focus more exclusively on the tech events through the next Olympic cycle, bolted out of the gate and tore apart the upper section. Racing as if she needed to gain a half-second on the field instead of preserve such a lead, she posted the fastest first sector on both runs. The lead only increased, as her flawless skiing earned her the second-fastest third sector and the fastest final en route to a season-opening slalom win.

“Petra was out of this world. I’m not sure I can beat that right now, but I’m also not trying to,” Shiffrin said. “I’m just trying to get my feet under me, bring the mentality into it, and hopefully get my timing a little bit better so I can have cleaner turns (and) be more active throughout the course.”

The only other American to earn a second run, Paula Moltzan (1:54.43) placed 15th on the day.

“Today was a good start to the slalom season for me,” Moltzan stated. “Happy with how I skied some sections of the course but I am hoping to find some more speed and put it all together tomorrow! The top girls skied amazing today and I am going to try and vibe that.”

The women’s World Cup continues on Sunday with another slalom in Levi. The first run is set for 2 a.m. MST, with the final to follow at 5 a.m.

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