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Petra Vlhova kept her composure and edged out her great rival Mikaela Shiffrin on the American’s return to skiing to take the first slalom race of the season.
The women have a slalom double-header at Levi this weekend and the race was Shiffrin’s first in 300 days. The American missed the end of the season after the sudden death of her father Jeff and then the coronavirus pandemic. She missed the traditional season opener at Solden due to a slight back injury.
After the first run it was Vlhova who sat above Shiffrin and despite a brilliant second run from the latter it was the Slovakian who went above and beyond as the best skier on the day.
Petra Vlhova pips Mikaela Shiffrin in first slalom at Levi
The victory for Vlhova continues the pair’s astonishing dominance in slalom skiing. You have to go back to January 2017 for the last time a slalom World Cup race was won by someone other than these two.
Both will take plenty from this performance, Vlhova for getting a win under her belt early, and Shiffrin for looking so strong after so long without racing.
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They will be back in action on Sunday for the second slalom race of the weekend.
Speaking after the race Vlhova, whose coach set the course, was delighted to secure a victory at Levi, which also traditionally presents a reindeer for the victory.
Petra Vlhova of Slovakia takes 1st place during the Audi FIS Alpine Ski World Cup Women's Slalom on November 21, 2020 in Levi Finland
Image credit: Getty Images
“Like I told you before second run I tried to take advantage of this and I did it,” the Slovakian said.
"It wasn’t easy as it also started snowing on the course but I did it and I’m really happy because last year I went out in the second run.
“Victory in the first slalom of the season is always good.
Petra Vlhova leads the way after first run
“For me it’s really important to start very well in each discipline. We were always focused on being perfect because we’ve been here for three weeks. My whole team did a great job and without them I’m not here so thanks to them.”
Shiffrin appeared pleased to come second to her rival after such a long time out, having wondered at times whether a return to the sport was possible at all.
"I didn't want to dream that I'd be on the podium because I wasn't sure if it was possible," she said.
"Since February I've been wondering if I'd even come back at all. Just getting in the start gate is the best thing I could do."
Elsewhere Austria’s Katharina Liensberger took the final spot on the podium, one of four Austrians in the top ten.
As with Solden, plenty of skiers from later in the start gate made it back for the second run.
There were four skiers who started in the 40s and 50s plus Austrian teenager Magdalena Egger who started 61st and ended up a hugely impressive 19th.
None of the Swedish racers raced after coach Ola Masdal tested positive for Covid-19.