Mikaela Shiffrin acknowledged it after taking second in the season-opening slalom Saturday. The American has a rival in the discipline that she has dominated the last five years.
Slovakian Petra Vlhova edged Shiffrin for the second straight World Cup slalom, this time overcoming a first-run deficit to win by one tenth of a second in Levi, Finland.
Shiffrin, the reigning Olympic, world and World Cup champion in slalom, relinquished a .21 lead over Vlhova from the morning run.
Swiss Wendy Holdener was third, a distant 1.35 seconds back. Full results are here.
Shiffrin was aiming for her 27th World Cup slalom win and 32nd overall. Instead, Vlhova, who is 22 like Shiffrin, won her third career World Cup race, all slaloms.
“Mikaela, she’s always fast, but now I am fast,” said Vlhova, who was given a reindeer for the World Cup victory.
Vlhova also beat Shiffrin at the World Cup Finals in Aspen, Colo., last season, after Shiffrin had already clinched her first World Cup overall title and her fourth World Cup slalom season title in five years.
Shiffrin and Vlhova trained together this week.
“In all honesty, Petra skis like Mikaela more than Mikaela skis like Mikaela,” Shiffrin’s mom, Eileen, said, according to the Denver Post. “Their coaches are always on the hill, videoing Mikaela. I think Petra is going to give Mikaela a real run for her money.”
Shiffrin said she felt OK on Saturday, bur her timing was off on essential turns.
“I expect that it’s going to be a really cool fight with [Vlhova] this year,” Shiffrin said.
Shiffrin’s slalom dominance was on full display the last three seasons. At one point, she had a streak of seven straight World Cup slalom wins and victories in 15 straight slaloms that she started overall.
She missed five World Cup slaloms in the 2015-16 season due to a knee injury.
The men race a slalom in Levi on Sunday. A broadcast schedule is here.
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Levi Women’s Slalom
1. Petra Vlhova (SVK) — 1:49.98
2. Mikaela Shiffrin (USA) — +.10
3. Wendy Holdener (SUI) — +1.35
21. Resi Stiegler (USA) — +4.15