Levi

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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Mikaela Shiffrin beaten in first slalom of Olympic season (video)

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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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MORE: Marcel Hirscher sets return from broken ankle

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