Mikaela Shiffrin finishes second in Alpine skiing World Cup return

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Mikaela Shiffrin finished second to Slovakian rival Petra Vlhova in her first Alpine skiing World Cup race since announcing eight days earlier that she tested positive for the coronavirus.

Vlhova won a slalom by a half-second combining times from two runs in Zagreb, Croatia, on Tuesday. Austrian Katharina Liensberger was third, 1.61 seconds behind Shiffrin.

“It takes a little bit of time to get my physical shape back to the top level,” Shiffrin said between the first and second runs, noting she “pretty much” had not exercised the previous two weeks. “I didn’t have too much expectation.”

ALPINE WORLD CUP: Full Results | Broadcast Schedule

Shiffrin missed last week’s races — a giant slalom and slalom in Lienz, Austria — due to COVID-19 protocols for testing positive. Shiffrin said she had mild symptoms and was vaccinated and boosted, then produced a negative test early this week to return for Tuesday’s race.

She has finished first or second in all seven of her slalom or giant slalom starts this season, the most consistently strong start to a season of her career in the technical events.

But Vlhova is the world’s top-ranked slalom skier, winning four of the five World Cups this season. Shiffrin’s lone victory in the discipline came in Killington, Vermont, on Thanksgiving weekend.

Shiffrin is ranked No. 1 in the GS and the reigning world champion in the combined, which is not raced on the World Cup this season. She may go into the Olympics with those two events presenting her best gold-medal chances rather than slalom, her trademark event.

Shiffrin’s hope is to race all five individual events at the Olympics, including downhill and super-G. This latest interruption to her usually meticulously planned training, including not doing any GS work, has her continuing to question what she’ll be able to do next month.

“It might be a decision I have to make when I’m there, but I feel less secure in the A plan now,” said Shiffrin, who also missed training in the autumn due to a back injury. “I think there’s some things you can’t really overcome. … but I’m optimistic, so I don’t know.”

The men race in Zagreb on Wednesday. The women’s World Cup moves to Kranjska Gora, Slovenia, for a giant slalom and slalom this weekend.

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In a tie, Wendy Holdener puts to rest a remarkable stat in Alpine skiing

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Swiss Wendy Holdener ended one of the most remarkable victory droughts in sports by tying for the win with Swede Anna Swenn Larsson in a World Cup slalom in Killington, Vermont, on Sunday.

Holdener, after 15 second-place finishes and 15 third-place finishes in her career, stood on the top step of a World Cup slalom podium for the first time. She shared it with Swenn Larsson, who had six World Cup slalom podiums before Sunday and also earned her first win.

They beat Austrian Katharina Truppe by .22 of a second combining times from two runs.

ALPINE SKIING: Full Results | Broadcast Schedule

Holdener, 29, previously won three World Cups in other disciplines, plus two world championships in the combined and Olympic and world titles in the team event.

“To be tied first when I came into the finish was such a relief,” Holdener said while shoulder to shoulder with Swenn Larsson. “On the end, it’s perfect, because now we can share our first win together.”

Mikaela Shiffrin had the best first-run time but lost her lead midway through the second run and finished fifth. Shiffrin, who won the first two slaloms this season last weekend, was bidding for a 50th World Cup slalom victory and a sixth win in six slaloms in Killington.

“I fought. I think some spots I got a little bit off my timing, but I was pushing, and that’s slalom,” she said before turning her attention to Holdener and Swenn Larsson. “It’s a pretty special day, actually.”

The women’s Alpine skiing World Cup moves next weekend to Lake Louise, Alberta, with two downhills and a super-G.

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Injured Ilia Malinin wins Grand Prix Finland, qualifies for Grand Prix Final

Ilia Malinin
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Ilia Malinin, competing “a little bit injured” this week, still won Grand Prix Finland and goes into the Grand Prix Final in two weeks as the world’s top-ranked male singles skater.

Malinin, who was second after Friday’s short program, landed four clean quadruple jumps in Saturday’s free skate to overtake Frenchman Kevin Aymoz.

Malinin, who landed a quad flip in competition for the first time, according to SkatingScores.com, also attempted a quad Axel to open his program, but spun out of the landing and put his hand down on the ice.

Malinin also won his previous two starts this season in come-from-behind fashion. The 17-year-old world junior champion became the first skater to land a clean, fully rotated quad Axel in September, then did it again in October at Skate America, where he posted the world’s top overall score this season.

Next, Malinin can become the second-youngest man to win the Grand Prix Final after Russian Yevgeny Plushenko. His biggest competition is likely to be world champion Shoma Uno of Japan, who like Malinin won both of his Grand Prix starts this fall. Malinin and Uno have not gone head-to-head this season.

Grand Prix Finland highlights air on NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET.

FIGURE SKATING: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Earlier, Japan’s Mai Mihara overtook world silver medalist Loena Hendrickx of Belgium to become the only woman to win both of her Grand Prix starts this season. Mihara prevailed by .23 of a point. The top three women this season by best total score are Japanese, led by a junior skater, 14-year-old Mao Shimada, who isn’t Olympic age-eligible until 2030.

Mihara and Hendrickx qualified for the Grand Prix Final, joining world champion Kaori Sakamoto and Rinka Watanabe, both of Japan, South Korean Yelim Kim and American Isabeau Levito, the world junior champion.

Italians Rebecca Ghilardi and Filippo Ambrosini won both pairs’ programs and qualified for their first Grand Prix Final.

Japan’s Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara and Americans Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier headline the Final. Both pairs won each of their Grand Prix starts earlier this fall. The Japanese have the world’s two best scores this season. The Americans are reigning world champions.

At least one Russian or Chinese pair made every Grand Prix Final podium — usually pairs from both countries — but neither nation competed in pairs this Grand Prix season. All Russian skaters are banned due to the war in Ukraine. China’s lone entry on the Grand Prix across all disciplines was an ice dance couple.

Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier improved on their world-leading score for this season in winning the ice dance by 17.03 points over Americans Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker. Both couples qualified for the Grand Prix Final in the absence of all three Olympic medalists this fall.

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