Amer­i­can Olympic champ Shiffrin wins World Cup slalom opener

Malta Independent - - SPORT -

Even with less pre-sea­son slalom train­ing than usual, Amer­i­can skier Mikaela Shiffrin keeps dom­i­nat­ing her fa­vorite dis­ci­pline.

The Olympic and world cham­pion shifted her fo­cus in prac­tice to su­per-G and even down­hill, but her reign in the slalom dis­ci­pline has re­mained un­af­fected.

Shiffrin held on to a com­fort­able open­ing-run lead to win the first women's World Cup slalom of the sea­son yes­ter­day in freez­ing con­di­tions of mi­nus 9 de­grees Cel­sius (16 de­grees Fahren­heit), drop­ping even more to around mi­nus 14 C (7 F) for the sec­ond run.

She fin­ished in a two-run com­bined time of 1 minute, 52.71 sec­onds, 0.67 ahead of Switzer­land's Wendy Hold­ener.

Slo­vakia's Pe­tra Vl­hova came 0.75 back in third.

"Now I al­most feel like I wish there was more time be­fore the next races so I could train more and im­prove more," Shiffrin said about in­creas­ing the num­ber of speed events on her sched­ule.

The rest of yes­ter­day's field trailed Shiffrin by at least a sec­ond, while Swe­den's Frida Hans­dot­ter, who was run­ner-up af­ter the open­ing leg, failed to fin­ish her sec­ond run.

"I am never con­fi­dent, re­ally," said Shiffrin, who has won all nine slaloms that she has com­peted in since Fe­bru­ary 2015. How­ever, Hans­dot­ter took the slalom ti­tle last sea­son as Shiffrin missed five races be­cause of a knee in­jury.

"There was a lot of doubt in my mind," Shiffrin said. "I was very ner­vous."

Shiffrin's ninth con­sec­u­tive win left her one short of Jan­ica Kostelic's record. The Croa­t­ian great won 10 straight slaloms that she com­peted in be­tween De­cem­ber 1999 and Fe­bru­ary 2001.

Still, Shiffrin wouldn't take any­thing for granted, re­fer­ring to the strength of her chal­lengers.

"Frida went out, and Wendy skied re­ally strong but she had a huge mis­take the first run," the Amer­i­can said. "With­out that mis­take she would have been even faster, and Pe­tra was re­ally good as well."

The vic­tory in north­ern Fin­land earned Shiffrin an usual prize — a rein­deer. She got one from her pre­vi­ous win here in 2013 and called him 'Ru­dolph.' This time she was go­ing to call him 'Sven' — af­ter the rein­deer from the movie "Frozen."

It was Shiffrin's 21st ca­reer win and 20th in slalom, match­ing Kostelic's num­ber of wins. Only Aus­tria's Mar­lies Raich (35) and Swiss pair Vreni Sch­nei­der (34) and Erika Hess (21) won more slaloms.

Rac­ing down the slope in the orange glow of the set­ting Arc­tic sun, Shiffrin took a 0.72-sec­ond lead over Hans­dot­ter and Hold­ener, who shared sec­ond place af­ter the open­ing run.

While Hold­ener put pres­sure on Shiffrin with a near-flaw­less sec­ond at­tempt, Hans­dot­ter — last sea­son's ti­tle holder — strad­dled a gate when she en­tered the steep pitch and skied out in the mid­dle sec­tion.

"I re­ally wanted to go for it to­day, and for sure the end of last sea­son was great, so it gave me con­fi­dence," Hold­ener said. "I had to learn to be more ag­gres­sive on the skis. I re­ally love ski­ing and it wasn't easy to fo­cus and give ev­ery­thing."

Vl­hova skied on the safe side in the first run.

"We talked with my team that I have to go full gas in sec­ond run," Vl­hova said. "I'm happy it worked out."

Shiffrin wasn't clean from the start of her fi­nal run and had lost 0.13 on Hold­ener at the first split, but the Amer­i­can ac­cel­er­ated to ex­tend her lead to 0.92 be­fore avoid­ing risks in the fi­nal part of her run.

The vic­tory gave Shiffrin, who placed sec­ond in the sea­son-open­ing GS last month, the lead in the over­all stand­ings with 180 points, 80 clear of Lara Gut.

The over­all cham­pion from Switzer­land won the race last month but usu­ally does not com­pete in slaloms.

The 18-year-old Me­lanie Meil­lard of Switzer­land, who was com­pet­ing in her fourth World Cup race, started in 40th but fin­ished sixth, 1.87 off the lead. Aus­tria's Ber­nadette Schild, younger sis­ter of re­tired slalom great Mar­lies Raich, failed to qual­ify for the sec­ond run af­ter dam­ag­ing the edge of a ski early in her run and fin­ish­ing 3.92 sec­onds be­hind Shiffrin.

A men's slalom on the same course is sched­uled for to­day.

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