Shiffrin leads Olympic champ Hansdotter in World Cup slalom
LEVI, Finland (AP) — Mikaela Shiffrin started the women's World Cup slalom season in the same way she ended the previous one — with a clear victory.
The two-time overall champion built on a first-run lead to comfortably win the traditional opening race in Finnish Lapland on Saturday.
Shiffrin defeated last year's winner, Petra Vlhova of Slovakia, by 0.58 seconds. Bernadette Schild of Austria, who posted the fastest second-run time, finished third, 0.79 off the lead.
Switzerland's Wendy Holdener, the runner-up to Shiffrin in the overall standings last season, was 0.85 seconds behind in fifth.
It was Shiffrin's 33rd career victory in a slalom, leaving her two wins shy of the World Cup record held by Austria's Marlies Raich — Schild's older sister.
"I felt well," said Shiffrin, who won seven of nine World Cup slalom events last season, including the final one in March by a massive 1.58 seconds. "I was really able to push."
On Saturday, strong winds in the upper part of the course forced organizers to postpone the race by 45 minutes and move the start gate lower down the mountain, reducing run times by 10 seconds.
"It wasn't a big problem," said Shiffrin, who opened the race wearing No. 1. "It was the right decision, for sure. It's windy."
Shiffrin dominated the opening run as only Olympic slalom champion Frida Hansdotter managed to finish within a half-second of her lead. While the Swedish racer and several others led Shiffrin at the first split time, nobody matched the American's speed in the steep middle section of the course.
"It's tough to be good at both," Shiffrin said. "There are some girls who are a touch faster than I was at the very top, but it's not so easy to have a good rhythm at the top and then a really good rhythm at the pitch as well."
Hansdotter dropped to fourth after the final run, in which Shiffrin reacted quickly to avoid skiing out after a mishap.
"I had a little bit of a scary moment on the top of the pitch but kept fighting and made it to the finish. It was fun," said Shiffrin, who has won the slalom season title five times in the past six years.
"It's the first race of the season, so there are some nerves, there is some excitement. Nobody knows how fast they are. It's always a nice challenge."
Shiffrin also led this race after the first run a year ago but was edged by Vlhova, who became the only racer to beat her at a World Cup slalom last season. The only other race Shiffrin didn't win was in Lenzerheide, Switzerland, when she failed to finish.
Twice before, in 2013 and 2016, had Shiffrin won the race, where the winner is awarded a rather unusual prize — a reindeer. Shiffrin said she would name it Mr. Gru after a character from the animated comedy film "Despicable Me." She had called her other reindeers Rudolph and Sven.
Saturday's win gave Shiffrin an early lead in the World Cup standings after she placed third in the first giant slalom three weeks ago. She has 160 points — 60 more than France's Tessa Worley, who doesn't compete in slaloms, and 79 more than Holdener.
A men's slalom on the same course is scheduled for Sunday, and the women will travel to Killington, Vermont, for a slalom and a giant slalom next weekend.