LEVI, Finland (AP) — Petra Vlhova built a slim first-run lead over Mikaela Shiffrin on Saturday in a women’s World Cup slalom that was the American’s first race in nearly 10 months.
Shiffrin opened the race in Finnish Lapland with an error-free run in 54.34 seconds.
Vlhova, the World Cup slalom champion from Slovakia, trailed Shiffrin by 0.13 at the first split but was ahead of the American at all following check points before finishing 0.15 ahead.
Shiffrin hadn’t competed since January, as her previous season ended prematurely following the death of her father, Jeff Shiffrin, and the cancellation of the season-ending races amid the coronavirus outbreak, while she sat out the first race of the new season in Austria in October with a back injury.
“It’s kind of crazy to be back after a very long time and everything,” Shiffrin said after her run. “It’s pretty amazing and I am just really happy to be here.”
In a streak that started in January 2017, the last 26 World Cup slaloms have all won by either Shiffrin, with 19 wins, or Vlhova.
The pair seemed set to continue their dominance in Saturday’s race.
“Nothing’s changed, but also everything’s changed,” Shiffrin said. “But it’s really fun to be here, to see everybody skiing. It’s fun to watch and for me it was fun to do.”
Katharina Liensberger was 0.52 seconds back in third, as the Austrian slalom team was seeking a first World Cup win in six years.
The rest of the field, led by Swiss racers Michelle Gisin and Wendy Holdener, was more than a full second off Vlhova’s lead.
Federica Brignone, who ended Shiffrin’s three-year reign as overall champion last season, had 1.61 to make up in the second run.
Franziska Gritsch trailed Vlhova by just two hundredths at the second split but the Austrian straddled a gate shortly afterward.
Slalom specialist Anna Swenn Larsson missed the race as the entire Swedish team quarantined after a COVID-19 test for one of its coaches came back positive.
A limited number of spectators were allowed at the race.
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