Mikaela Shiffrin of Edwards made it back onto a World Cup race course for this first time in 300 days in Levi, Finland on Saturday but came up just short of rival Petra Vlhova in slalom action yet again.
Following a long layoff after the death of her father, the COVID-19 outbreak that prematurely ended last season, and back issues that cost her the season opener in Soelden, Austria, Shiffrin was just .15 back of Vlhova after the first run.
But Vlhova actually improved on that lead in the second run and wound up beating Shiffrin with a two-run time of 1 minute, 50.11 seconds. Shiffrin was runner-up with a time of 1:50.29.
“Nothing’s changed, but also everything’s changed,” Shiffrin said, according to the Associated Press. “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.”
The last time Shiffrin — the all-time women’s slalom winner with 43 career victories — raced in the discipline, she finished behind Vlhova in two consecutive races in January.
Vlhova went on to win the final slalom event of the season in Feburary, claiming the discipline title by 20 points over Shiffrin and has now claimed four straight regular-season World Cup slaloms. It was also the 15th career victory for Vlhova.
The last time Shiffrin raced on the World Cup circuit she captured her 66th career victory, second on the all-time women’s list behind former Vail resident Lindsey Vonn (82).
That win was in the speed event of super-G on Jan. 26 in Bankso, Bulgaria, after winning a downhill there two days earlier.
The last time Shiffrin won in slalom was last year — Dec. 29 in Lienz, Austria, where she also won a giant slalom the day before.
Shiffrin was clearly concerned about Vlhova’s slalom prowess ahead of Saturday’s opener for the discipline in Levi.
Last season, Vlhova beat Shiffrin head to head in the event in Zagreb, Croatia on Jan. 4 and then in Flachau, Austria on Jan. 14 — the first time that had happened to Shiffrin since 2017.
“Petra was quite far ahead,” Shiffrin said last week, according to NBC Sports. “I haven’t gotten a comparison against any of the other athletes who are here [in Levi] for over 300 days in slalom, so I really don’t know.”
With Shiffrin sidelined in early February after the accidental death of her father, Jeff, at their Edwards home, Shiffrin did not compete again as Vlhova won the final slalom of the season in Kranjska Gora, Slovenia on Feb. 14.
Shiffrin, who had been well on her way to what would have been an American record fourth straight overall World Cup title, tried to get back on the circuit in March — only to see all ski-racing action scrubbed due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Shiffrin wound up second in the overall chase to Italy’s Federica Brignone.
Vlhova was third in the season-opening GS in Soelden, Austria last month, as Shiffrin sat out to recover from a bad back — training at home here in Colorado on the slopes of Copper Mountain.
The women face off in another slalom race in Levi on Sunday.
Here’s the press release from the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team:
After 300 days away from the World Cup circuit, Mikaela Shiffrin barely missed a beat, stepping back on the podium in second place at the FIS Ski World Cup slalom in Levi, Finland.
The weather was chilly in the Finnish Lapland, with the second run taking place under the lights to make up for the lack of sunlight 100 miles north of the Arctic Circle in December. Conditions were ideal for Mikaela, who finished just .18 seconds behind Slovakian rival Petra Vlhova. Katharina Liensberger of Austria was third. (Fun fact: The last 27 World Cup slaloms have been won by Mikaela or Petra. Frida Hansdotter was the last female to win a World Cup slalom apart from the pair…in 2017!)
Saturday’s slalom in Levi was the much-anticipated return of Mikaela, who had not had a World Cup start since her last win in Bankso, Bulgaria on January 26, 2020. Shortly after, her father died unexpectedly and she took a leave of absence from the World Cup to be with her family. By the time Mikaela decided to race again, COVID-19 was taking hold and ultimately canceled the rest of the FIS season. And while she had looked forward to racing the opening giant slalom in Soelden, she tweaked her back and sat out the weekend.
Mikaela kept expectations low of Saturday’s race, warning reporters to not anticipate much of her skiing, but those caveats proved unnecessary, as Mikaela set down two aggressive runs to take her seventh podium in Levi.
As important as a result, Mikaela said she found the joy in ski racing again. “It felt like my first victory,” she said. “It’s a really special day.”
“I think a good thing was that a lot of the feeling today was similar to what I felt in the past,” Mikaela continued. “Maybe that means I didn’t lose it all—my ability to ski fast or to try to be strong and come back and be hungry and competitive. One of the big reasons I wanted to come back and race was to see if this was something I could still do. And we’re here and it was okay. I still enjoyed it. That’s good.”
While she’s looking forward to seeing what else she can do, Mikaela did acknowledge that her mindset is different after her father’s death.
“When I was nervous, I would think what’s the worst that could happen when I don’t win,” she mused. “The media or my friends and family are disappointed? Or they’re happy because they’re cheering for someone else? Those aren’t bad things. I know that now. I’d like to get back to the point where I care enough to be really fired up when I’m second by .18, but I’m pretty happy right now and pretty proud.”
Lila Lapanja, Resi Stiegler and Land Rover U.S. Alpine Ski Team athletes Paula Moltzan and Nina O’Brien all started first run, but finished just out of the top 30 and did not make second run.
The women get another go on the same track in Levi on Sunday with a second slalom race.
HOW TO WATCH
All times EST
Sunday, Nov. 22
12:00 a.m. FIS Alpine World Cup Women’s Slalom – Same Day Delayed Broadcast, Levi, FIN, Broadcast, NBCSN
4:15 am – FIS Alpine World Cup Women’s Slalom first run – LIVE, Levi, FIN, Streaming Peacock
7:00 a.m. – FIS Alpine World Cup Women’s Slalom – LIVE, Levi, FIN, Broadcast Olympic Channel
7:15 a.m. – FIS Alpine World Cup Women’s Slalom second run – LIVE, Levi, FIN, Streaming Peacock
Learn more about how you can support U.S. Ski & Snowboard athletes this season at KeepTheFlameAlive.org.