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Mikaela Shiffrin takes record for slalom victories with ‘lucky’ win in Finland

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Mikaela Shiffrin won her 41st World Cup slalom, breaking a tie with Swedish great Ingemar Stenmark for the career record, Saturday in Levi, Finland.

Rival Petra Vlhova had the lead after the first run but crashed out early in her second, providing an anticlimactic finish to the showdown between the top two slalom skiers in the world.

“I felt a little bit lucky with this win, but I also felt good with my skiing, so I’m happy,” Shiffrin said.

Shiffrin, who finished second in the season-opening giant slalom last month, also took the lead in her campaign for a fourth straight overall World Cup.

Vlhova was the only skier to beat Shiffrin in a slalom last season. The 24-year-old Slovakian, three months younger than Shiffrin, has steadily climbed up the World Cup standings each year and was second to Shiffrin in the slalom, giant slalom and overall last year.

With Vlhova’s crash, Shiffrin won by a comfortable margin of 1.78 seconds over Wendy Holdener. The Swiss skier, third in last year’s slalom and overall standings and second in each ranking the year before, was sixth in the first run but had a torrid second run. Holdener still has never won a World Cup slalom.

Austria’s Katharina Truppe finished third to reach the podium for the first time in her career.

Shiffrin now has momentum as the series heads to Killington, Vt., virtually her hometown race. Thanks to the unique awards in Levi, she also has a fourth reindeer, who showed a bit of feistiness in the award ceremony. She has not yet thought of a name for the animal who will join RudolphSven and Mr. Gru in her herd.

READ: Shiffrin chases fourth reindeer while mourning loss of grandmother 

While Shiffrin has become a threat in all events, winning her first giant slalom and super-G World Cup titles last season, the slalom has always been her go-to race. After her debut World Cup season in 2011-12, she has won six of the last seven World Cup slalom season titles and four straight world championships.

Under dark and foggy conditions in Levi, Shiffrin drew the first starting spot for the first run and finished in 58.78. The other contenders and top finishers also started early. Truppe, skiing fifth, finished in 59.64. Next up was Sweden’s Anna Swenn Larsson, the runner-up in last year’s world championships, who finished in 59.96. Vlhova was next, finishing in 58.65 for a lead of 0.13 seconds over Shiffrin. No other skier finished in less than one minute.

 

New Zealand teen Alice Robinson, who beat Shiffrin in the season-opening giant slalom in Soelden, Austria, is out of action until December with a bone bruise.

The men’s slalom from Levi will stream live on NBC Sports Gold at 4:15 and 7 a.m. ET Sunday. The Olympic Channel will broadcast the second run. The men’s and women’s World Cup circuits will diverge next week, with the men going to Lake Louise, Alberta, for speed events.

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Mikaela Shiffrin’s rivals don’t believe they can beat her for overall title

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SOELDEN, Austria (AP) — With Mikaela Shiffrin’s dominance in the Alpine skiing World Cup increasing each year, some of her main competitors don’t seem to hold out much hope of beating the American standout for the overall title.

Like Wendy Holdener, who was runner-up to Shiffrin two years ago and third last season.

“I don’t think about the overall at the moment. If it could be a battle, it would be great,” the Swiss skier told The Associated Press on Thursday before the season starts with a giant slalom on the Rettenbach glacier (Saturday, 4 a.m. and 7 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold).

Or Sofia Goggia, who has finished in the top three overall a few times before a fractured ankle halted her challenge for most of last season.

“The goal is to confirm myself on the speed side. But I am not thinking about the overall,” the Italian said.

It will likely leave Petra Vlhova as Shiffrin’s main challenger again. The Slovakian technical specialist won five races last season and even beat Shiffrin once in the American’s strongest discipline, slalom. Vlhova ended the season as the runner-up, but trailed Shiffrin by 801 points.

That was the American’s biggest season-ending margin so far. Shiffrin led Ilka Stuhec of Slovenia by 274 points for her first big crystal globe in 2017, and the difference grew to 671 points over Holdener the next year.

What followed was a record-breaking season, including 17 World Cup wins to raise her career tally to 60, third on the all-time winners list of the women’s World Cup. While Austrian great Annemarie Moser-Proell is within reach with 62 career wins, Shiffrin probably won’t catch Lindsey Vonn this season. The retired four-time overall champions has 82 wins.

Apart from her third straight overall title, Shiffrin won the season titles in slalom, GS and super-G.

“Last season was huge and it was almost too much, so I think I have to be a little bit realistic, too,” Shiffrin said about replicating her achievement.

What separates the upcoming season from the previous three is the lack of a major medal competition. With no Olympics or world championships in February 2020, Shiffrin might choose to step up her efforts in super-G and downhill.

“It actually gives an opportunity to test out a little bit more what I am able to do in speed,” she said. “I feel more comfortable to push there because you don’t have to be safe for a world championship.”

While her build-up to the season has been similar to previous years and her team, led by head coach Mike Day, has remained unchanged, something will be different: mother Eileen, also one of her coaches, won’t travel the whole circuit this season as she is also taking care of her 98-year-old mother.

“But I selfishly asked her when she is able to come, to travel and be with me because she has been a huge piece of my success,” Shiffrin told the AP in a recent interview at the office of her equipment supplier, Atomic.

“Somebody who is so close to me, my mother is my best friend and also an incredible coach. I think that sets me apart from the other athletes,” Shiffrin said. “It sounds a bit selfish but I don’t want to let that go.”

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GOGGIA’S GOALS

Goggia, the Olympic downhill champion, saw her quest for last season’s overall title end before the first race. A broken ankle kept her out until late January, but she returned with a bang, winning super-G silver at the world championships and a World Cup downhill in Switzerland the following month.

“The first races last season were a surprise but when you start with no real expectations, everything can happen,” Goggia said. “When you have your back and your shoulders against the wall, you got one chance to do the right thing. So when it comes to being a shooter, I am a good shooter.”

Goggia’s injury forced her to sit out all but two giant slaloms last season, meaning she has dropped out of the top 30 in the discipline rankings and will get an unfavorable late start position in Saturday’s race.

“I am going to start far behind. I really have no expectations but I have been working a lot,” the Italian said. “In super-G and downhill I am OK, so I am pretty confident and solid.”

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HOLDENER’S HOPE

Having added a few extra days of speed training to her offseason schedule in Zermatt in her native Switzerland, Holdener might increase her number of starts in super-G and downhill.

“It’s difficult to have, like, five disciplines. We will see how the season is starting, which events I am doing in speed. Normally I won’t do a lot of downhills,” she said.

Make no mistake, slalom and GS remain her main events.

“In GS I am top seven but the best girls are still a little bit in front of me,” she said. “Last season sometimes I skied really good and then I took a step back. You shouldn’t do that. You should fight until the finish.”

One of Holdener’s biggest wishes is to finally get that first win in slalom. She amassed 22 top-three results but is yet to win a race.

No skier, male or female, has ever had more World Cup podiums in a single discipline without a win.

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Shiffrin’s slalom streak is snapped at Flachau World Cup

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After finishing second to American Mikaela Shiffrin in the first five World Cup slaloms of the season, Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova finally made her breakthrough at today’s World Cup stop in Flachau, Austria. Competing under the lights and amid heavy snowfall, Shiffrin led the field by 0.27 seconds after the first run (with Vlhova sitting in third, 0.31 seconds back). But Vlhova attacked the course in the second run, going on to finish 0.15 seconds ahead of Shiffrin. Austria’s Katharina Liensberger placed third, marking the 21-year-old’s first-ever World Cup podium finish. (Anna Swenn Larsson of Sweden initially seemed to have claimed the final spot on the podium, but she was later disqualified for not correctly passing through one of the gates.)

The other American competing in Flachau, Paula Moltzan, finished 12th, marking her best-ever World Cup finish. Moltzan was in 27th place after the first run, but she skied the second-fastest time (behind only Vlhova) in the second run to catapult herself up the standings. Full results are here.

It has been nearly two years since a woman other than Vlhova or Shiffrin stood atop a women’s World Cup slalom podium. Sweden’s Frida Handotter won the Flachau slalom on January 10, 2017, but in the 17 World Cup slaloms since, Shiffrin has notched 13 victories, while Vlhova has won four.

Vlhova is one of the only athletes who has seriously challenged Shiffrin in recent years. The two athletes are close in age (Shiffrin is exactly three months older). At the start of the 2017-18 season, it seemed like a real slalom rivalry was developing after Vlhova outpaced Shiffrin by 0.10 seconds at the World Cup in Levi, Finland. But then Shiffrin finished ahead of Vlhova at the Killington World Cup. And then Shiffrin won again, and again, and again, all while Vlhova’s slalom results slowed.

Vlhova has been gaining on Shiffrin since the start of the current season and she even managed to outpace the American slalom star at the city event in Oslo earlier this month. But today’s win was even sweeter. “This is my best day ever.” Vlhova said in her post-race FIS interview. “Finally I beat Mikaela, but she’s also really strong and I have big respect [for her].”

A few minutes later, Shiffrin told the crowd of cheering fans, “It’s motivation for me so we’ll see you in Maribor,” a reference to the next slalom on the World Cup calendar, which is scheduled for February 2.

Shiffrin entered Flachau having won the last seven World Cup slaloms (a streak that in March 2018 in Ofterschwang, Germany). Today’s race offered her a chance to tie the women’s World Cup record for most consecutive slalom victories (eight), which was set by Switzerland’s Vreni Schneider in 1989 and equaled by Croatia’s Janica Kostelic in 2001, but her second-place finish means it will be at least another year before she another shot at that specific record.

In December, Shiffrin broke Austrian Marlies Schild’s record for most career World Cup slalom wins by a woman. Despite her second-place finish today, Shiffrin still has the opportunity to tie the overall record for most World Cup slalom wins (by a man or woman) before the end of the season. The current record (40) is held by Sweden’s Ingemar Stenmark, who competed in the 1970s and 80s. Shiffrin currently owns 37 career World Cup slalom wins, with three more races scheduled this season.