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Henrik Kristoffersen gets first slalom win in nearly 2 years

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LEVI, Finland (AP) — Henrik Kristoffersen has finally triumphed again in a men’s World Cup slalom after 22 months, winning the first race since the retirement of his longtime nemesis Marcel Hirscher.

Competing in foggy conditions and snowfall, Kristoffersen edged first-run leader Clement Noel on Sunday to win the first slalom of the season.

It was the Norwegian’s 16th career victory in the discipline, but the first since winning in Kitzbuehel in January 2018.

“After the first run I thought: ‘Seven-tenths on Noel, that’s a bit too much,’” said Kristoffersen, who trailed the Frenchman by 0.68 seconds after the opening leg but beat his French rival by 0.09 thanks to a near-flawless second run.

“My skiing in slalom is much better than last year, we have worked a lot,” he said. “It was not a perfect run but it’s going in the right direction.”

Kristoffersen and Hirscher dominated the slalom circuit for years, with the Austrian mostly coming out on top.

No other skier than Hirscher (six times) or Kristoffersen (once) has won the season title in the discipline in the past seven seasons.

“In 2015, 16, 17, we were very fast, Marcel and me. Then we were a bit over the limit, I think,” Kristoffersen said. “I had to take back a bit: a bit less speed and a bit more focus on technique. Taking one step back to go three steps forward.”

With Hirscher, the record eight-time overall champion from Austria, now retired, the competition for a new slalom champion is wide open.

Noel confirmed his status as one the leading racers in the discipline by posting the fastest time in the opening run, building a lead of 0.39 seconds over Britain’s Dave Ryding.

In the second run, however, Noel had a costly mistake going into the steep part of the Levi Black course while Ryding, chasing his first win, slid off the course midway down the hill and failed to finish.

“It was a good race. It was really difficult in the second run,” Noel said. “It’s a good way to start the season. I am playing with the big boys and I am happy about that.”

Noel had his breakthrough in the final two months of last season. Without a World Cup podium finish to his name, Noel finished runner-up in Adelboden in January before winning races in Wengen, Kitzbuehel and Soldeu.

It earned him second place, shared with Switzerland’s Daniel Yule, behind Hirscher in the slalom season standings.

On Sunday, Yule improved from seventh after the opening run to third, 0.18 behind Kristoffersen.

Noel’s French teammate Alexis Pinturault finished 2.48 off the lead in the opening run and failed to qualify for the second.

Pinturault won the season-opening giant slalom last month and is widely regarded a main candidate for the overall title.

The men’s World Cup continues next week in Lake Louise, Alberta, with a downhill on Saturday and a super-G the following day, the first speed events of the season.

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Mikaela Shiffrin wins third reindeer in Levi

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Mikaela Shiffrin overcame strong winds, nerves and a testy gate in her second run to claim the first World Cup slalom of the season, her 33rd career slalom victory and her third reindeer in Levi, Finland on Saturday.

Shiffrin prevailed by .58 of a second over Slovakian Petra Vlhova after the race was delayed 45 minutes and the start moved down due to winds, a much more common alteration in speed events than slalom. She had the fastest first run by .14 over surprise Olympic gold medalist Frida Hansdotter of Sweden.

“I had a little bit of a scary moment on the top of the pitch but kept fighting,” Shiffrin said of her second run, where she was clearly late on one early gate. “It’s the first race of the season, so there’s some nerves, there’s some excitement. Nobody knows how fast they are. It’s always a really nice challenge.”

Levi winners receive a reindeer. Shiffrin named her first two Rudolph and Sven from wins in 2013 and 2016. She named her third Mr. Gru, after the “Despicable Me” character,” at a friend’s suggestion.

MORE: Full Levi Results | Alpine TV Schedule

Shiffrin moved two World Cup slalom wins shy of retired Austrian idol Marlies Schild‘s record. If you include Shiffrin’s three parallel slalom wins, then she broke Schild’s record on Saturday. The American now has 44 World Cup wins overall, two shy of retired Austrian Renate Götschl, who is fourth on the women’s all-time list.

It’s also Shiffrin’s third straight slalom win since shockingly finishing fourth at the Olympics, between her giant slalom gold and super combined silver.

The men race in Levi on Sunday, featuring double Olympic gold medalist Marcel Hirscher, in their season debut. Both runs stream live on NBC Sports Gold at 4:15 and 7 a.m. ET, with Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA airing the second run live.

Shiffrin heads to Killington, Vt., next week for a giant slalom and slalom. Lindsey Vonn makes her farewell season debut the following weekend with speed races in Lake Louise, Alberta.

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Mikaela Shiffrin races for another reindeer

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Mikaela Shiffrin already has three Olympic medals. She can win her third reindeer on Saturday.

Shiffrin headlines the first slalom of the World Cup season in Levi, Finland, live on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA and streaming via NBC Sports Gold’s Snow Pass.

The first run is at 4:15 a.m. ET. The second is at 7.

The traditional (and unconventional) winner’s prize in Finland is a reindeer. Shiffrin captured the Levi slalom in 2013 and 2016, naming her furry friends Rudolph and Sven.

The reindeer stay in Finland while Shiffrin criss-crosses Europe and North America on the World Cup tour.

Shiffrin lost in her trademark discipline in Levi last fall to a new rival, Petra Vlhova of Slovakia.

Motivated, Shiffrin won the next six slaloms before skiing out of the last slalom before the Olympics. Then in PyeongChang, Shiffrin shockingly finished fourth in defense of her Sochi Olympic title (after a giant slalom gold and before a super combined silver).

She bounced back, winning the last two World Cup slaloms of the 2017-18 season.

In the past, Shiffrin voiced a goal of winning every slalom in a season. She won all but three each of the last two years. Levi is the first of 12 World Cup slaloms this season.

Shiffrin must overcome the three women who made the PyeongChang podium ahead of her — Swede Frida Hansdotter, Swiss Wendy Holdener and Austrian Katharina Gallhuber.

She has already shown strong form, taking third in the season-opening giant slalom in Soelden, Austria, three weeks ago.

Nothing but a third reindeer will suffice in Saturday’s slalom, though.

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