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“Proud” Shiffrin comes runner-up to Vlhova in comeback race

Kuwai Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah

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LEVI, Fin­land — Mikaela Shiffrin, rac­ing for the first time since Jan­u­ary, set­tled for sec­ond place behind Petra Vlho­va in a World Cup slalom on Sat­ur­day but still “felt a lot of hap­pi­ness” to final­ly get back in the start gate.

“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.”

Vlho­va, the World Cup slalom cham­pi­on from Slo­va­kia, post­ed the fastest times in both runs to beat the Amer­i­can by 0.18 sec­onds in Finnish Lap­land, north of the Arc­tic Cir­cle.

But for Shiffrin, the result wasn’t her biggest con­cern.

“It’s been real­ly hard to imag­ine being here again and rac­ing. And being on the podi­um, that’s just some­thing I almost didn’t dare to real­ly imag­ine, because you don’t want to be dis­ap­point­ed again,” the dou­ble Olympic and three-time over­all cham­pi­on said.

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 sat out the first race of the new sea­son in Aus­tria in Octo­ber with a back injury.

The 25-year-old Shiffrin had won­dered whether she want­ed to con­tin­ue her ski rac­ing career, but after Saturday’s race she sound­ed opti­mistic.

“I hope from here I can keep going because I want to,” she said. “I felt a lot of hap­pi­ness ski­ing today, and rac­ing. I had fun and I felt I did some real­ly good ski­ing. After every­thing that has hap­pened, it is real­ly cool to just be able to ski race and get a podi­um, and get a sec­ond place, that’s like, wow!”

Rac­ing the sec­ond run on a course set by her coach Liv­io Mag­o­ni, Vlho­va earned her fourth straight slalom win.

“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.

Wear­ing bib No. 1, Shiffrin had opened the race 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 the 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.

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.

A lim­it­ed num­ber of spec­ta­tors were allowed at the race.

Anoth­er women’s slalom is sched­uled for Sun­day.

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oxNX4qWz9uI - “Proud” Shiffrin comes runner-up to Vlhova in comeback race

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