Shiffrin leads final GS before worlds after first run

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              United States' Mikaela Shiffrin speeds down the course during an alpine ski, women's World Cup giant slalom, in Maribor, Slovenia, Friday, Feb. 1, 2019. (AP Photo/Gabriele Facciotti)
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MARIBOR, Slovenia (AP) — Mikaela Shiffrin didn’t celebrate her shared victory with Slovakian rival Petra Vlhova in the final World Cup race before the world championships on Friday.

Shiffrin didn’t look at ease right after finishing, bending forward for a while, though in a first reaction on Slovenian TV she said, “It’s all good,” when asked about it.

Hours later, however, Shiffrin skipped a mandatory public awards ceremony and bib draw on the central square in Maribor to get physical therapy for an unnamed recurrent issue.

Her head coach, Mike Day, told The Associated Press it was an issue she’s had to deal with before, but didn’t elaborate on the extent or the origin of it.

Shiffrin is a multiple medal threat at the worlds in Are, Sweden, and was considering a start in the opening super-G race on Tuesday.

After Friday’s race, Shiffrin said “she was a little bit tense sometimes. It feels like it’s been so long since the last race.”

The American sat out various speed events and competed in just two races over the last three weeks — a giant slalom in Kronplatz and a super-G in Cortina d’Ampezzo, which she both won.

On Friday, she and Vlhova added a draw to their season-long rivalry. Shiffrin, the Olympic champion in the event, held a lead of 0.48 seconds after the opening run, but Vlhova posted the fastest time in the final run and made up the difference.

“It’s always a relief to see the green light. There was a fight in the second run and I almost lost it at the bottom,” said Shiffrin, who extended her lead to 0.62 seconds midway through her final run before losing the advantage on the icy last section of the Pohorje course.

“When I watch other sports, I am like hating it when there has to be a loser. I wish everybody could win. So today was nice,” the two-time overall champion from the United States added with a smile.

It was the second time Shiffrin shared the victory in a World Cup giant slalom. She finished level with Anna Fenninger in the season-opening race in 2014 for her first win in the discipline.

Ragnhild Mowinckel of Norway finished 0.93 seconds behind in third. The rest of the field was at least 1.29 seconds off the pace.

World champion Tessa Worley of France was third after the opening run but dropped to ninth.

“After the first run I felt good but I knew everybody would be pushing. I also had to push,” Shiffrin said. “I had this little bit of a mistake at the bottom, and was thinking like, ‘Oh no! Keep going.'”

The victory is Shiffrin’s 55th career win and ninth in giant slalom, matching the American women’s record of World Cup GS wins set by Tamara McKinney in the 1980s.

Vlhova earned her second victory in giant slalom after also winning in Semmering in December.

She has become Shiffrin’s closest challenger in the technical disciplines, even beating the American in her strongest event, the slalom, at a night race in Flachau in early January. The pair is also 1-2 in the overall standings, with Shiffrin leading 1,594 points to 998.

“We are all the time really close. Today we share first place. It’s good for everyone,” said Vlhova, who raised her career tally to eight wins. “It’s an amazing season. After every podium, after every victory, we don’t stop and we work even more than before.”

With winning the season-long GS title as one of her main goals, Shiffrin extended her lead in the discipline standings. She has 455 points, 81 clear of Worley in second place. Vlhova climbed to third with 318.

Two other main rivals, Italy’s Federica Brignone and Germany’s Viktoria Rebensburg, failed to finish their first runs and didn’t score World Cup points.

Speed specialist Ilka Stuhec was cheered by the home crowd as she competed in her first GS in almost two years. Stuhec tore an ACL in October 2017 and missed the entire season, including the Pyeongchang Olympics.

The 2017 World Cup downhill champion finished 20th.

A slalom on the same course is scheduled for Saturday.