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.”

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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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