Mikaela Shiffrin did exactly what she set out to do in Levi, Finland this weekend: She made some good turns and skied fast—fast enough to finish second in her first World Cup race in 300 days.
Only Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova, 2020’s World Cup Slalom Champion, skied faster than Shiffrin in Saturday’s opening slalom race to claim her first of two victories in the weekend’s slalom double-header. Here are the highlights from the women’s World Cup slalom races in Levi, Finland.
Shiffrin Finishes 0.18 Seconds Behind Vlhova in First Levi Slalom
Despite rising coronavirus cases worldwide, the first women’s World Cup slalom race of the 2021 World Cup Tour took place on Saturday, Nov. 21 in Levi, Finland, with athletes and coaches wearing facemasks on the slopes and in the finish area. All eyes were on Shiffrin and Vlhova, since the last 26 women’s World Cup slalom events won by either the American (19) or the Slovakian (7). But after two near-perfect runs, it was Vlhova who skied to the top of the podium, besting Shiffrin by 0.18 seconds. Austria’s Katharina Liensberger, who finished fourth in the world in slalom last season, rounded out the podium in third.
While Shiffrin made clear before the race that she was not setting high expectations for herself in her return to the World Cup circuit, she did intend to keep her standards for her skiing high. True to her word, Shiffrin skied two technically clean and fluid runs—they just weren’t as aggressive or direct as Vlhova’s. Nevertheless, Shiffrin was thrilled with her performance. She may not have won, but she found the joy in returning to the race course.
Read more: Mikaela Shiffrin Returns to World Cup Racing
“It felt like my first victory,” she told U.S. Ski and Snowboard.
Vlhova, who managed to win her first World Cup Crystal Globe in the discipline after Shiffrin’s sudden departure from racing last season due to the unexpected death of her father, proved in Saturday’s race that she is wholly deserving of her champion title. Saturday’s victory also comes as redemption for Vlhova, who was poised to win in Levi last season until she crashed out of the course in the second run, paving the way for Shiffrin to claim her second consecutive win in Levi.
“I tried to take advantage that my coach set the course, and I did it,” Vlhova said after the race. “It wasn’t easy—it started snowing and the course was getting destroyed. But I did it and I’m really happy, because last year I fell out [of the course].”
Sweden’s Anna Swenn-Larsson, a favorite for the podium in Levi, was noticeably absent from Saturday’s opening slalom. The Slalom World Champion was not allowed to compete after one of Swedish coaches tested positive for coronavirus before the race, forcing the entire Swedish team to quarantine for 14 days.
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Americans Paula Moltzan, Resi Stiegler, Nina O’Brien, and Lila Lapanja also started in Saturday’s race, though none qualified for a second run.
Vlhova Doubles Down to Win Second Levi Slalom
Because of the pandemic and efforts to reduce cross-country travel for athletes and their teams, Saturday’s opening slalom in Levi was immediately followed by a second slalom event on Sunday.
Bolstered by her win in the first slalom race of the weekend, Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova again skied to the top of the podium after beating Switzerland’s Michelle Gisin by 0.31 seconds. Austria’s Katharina Liensberger followed up her third-place finish on Saturday with another third place in Sunday’s race.
Shiffrin, who started with bib No. 4 on Sunday, skied two solid runs but was unable to find the aggression and speed she needed to land on the podium. After finishing the first run in fourth place, she ultimately had to second for fifth overall when Switzerland’s Wendy Holdener skied a faster second run to climb to fourth. Though she’s used to finishing on the podium—especially in slalom, her best event—Shiffrin wasn’t disappointed with Sunday’s result.
The big surprise in Sunday’s race was Gisin, who skied the best slalom run of her career to tie Vlhova in the first run. The Swiss skier was then able to follow up with a second strong run to finish just 0.31 seconds off Vlhova’s combined time to land in second place overall, a career-best for Gisin.
“It was really nice to see that if I ski the way I can, without mistakes, I’m really close to the best girls or even with them,” Gisin said after the race. “I was pretty nervous before the second run. I was sure Petra would give it all she had, and she did. So that’s really cool that I was able to keep up and was only three-tenths behind. Even though I’m only second, it’s a great victory for me.”
Americans Paula Moltzan and Lila Lapanja also had strong races on Sunday, finishing 23rd and 25th, respectively, to score World Cup points for their Top-30 finishes.
“It’s been over four years since I scored my first World Cup points in Flachau, so the result tonight is extra special for me. This step back into the Top 30 was a huge win for my team and their belief in what I”m doing,” Lapanja said after the race.
Thanks to her double victory, Vlhova now leads the World Cup standings in slalom with 200 points. Gisin and Shiffrin are currently tied for second with 125 points. In the overall standings, Vlhova leads with 260 points, with Gisin in second and Shiffrin in third.
From Levi, the women’s World Cup travels to Lech Zürs, Switzerland, where the women will join the men for the first parallel events of the season on Sunday, Nov. 26.