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The International Ski Federation (FIS) on Wednesday issued the following preview of women’s World Cup slalom races this weekend in Levi, Finland, pitting five-time Levi winner Petra Vlhova of Slovakia against four-time Levi winner Mikaela Shiffrin of Edwards:
After an October disrupted by cancellations and postponements, the women’s Audi FIS Ski World Cup season finally gets under way this weekend (19-20 November) in Levi, Finland, with a pair of exhilarating slalom events.
Located 110 miles north of the Arctic Circle, Levi is an early-calendar favourite having been on the programme since 2004. Its 1,066ft black slope drop always provides the fierce technical challenges required for a magical race.
Winners on the Levi Black are gifted ‘ownership’ of a Lapland reindeer – and it is slalom supremo Petra Vlhova (SVK), who currently commands the biggest herd, with a record five victories here.
Last season, Vlhova prevailed in both races on the slalom weekend, putting together immaculate runs under the polar lights.
This was a repeat of her back-to-back wins in 2020. Along with a gold in 2017, it makes Levi the Slovak’s happiest hunting ground.
Levi was the perfect platform for the rest of Vlhova’s season last term: she won five of the nine slaloms available to lift the event’s crystal globe with ease, and went on to add the Olympic slalom gold at the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games.
Slovakia’s Slalom Olympic Champion often spends weeks of pre-season training in Finland, and seems to relish the piste she has previously described as “a big fight” to get down. She will once again start as favourite here.
Mikaela Shiffrin (USA) who came second on both days last season, will have other ideas, though. She is also a huge fan of the slope, and has four wins here, in 2013, 2016, 2018 and 2019.
The American is the Overall World Cup holder, with an astonishing 74 titles clocked up in her career so far, 47 of them in slaloms, and a clear hunger for more.
One of the pair has triumphed in Levi all the way back to 2015: the last victor to come outside this duo was Tina Maze (SLO) in 2014.
Who can possibly break the Levi duopoly? Katharina Liensberger (AUT) and Andreja Slokar (SLO) were the only slalom winners other than Vlhova and Shiffrin last season, the Austrian ski star will certainly be a strong contender while the Slovenian is out of the running due to a ruptured cruciate ligament.
Liensberger took the 2021 overall slalom World Cup, and world championship gold in Cortina d’Ampezzo, in stunning style, but by her standards had a disappointing season last year, slipping to fourth in the discipline’s standings.
Levi will be an early indication of whether she is ready to bounce back across a full season.
Lena Dürr (GER) loves Finland and finished third here last time (as well as in the overall slalom rankings), while Anna Swenn Larsson (SWE) also enjoys Levi.
Switzerland’s Wendy Holdener is always a threat in this discipline, and at this venue, too – but she’s still never won a World Cup slalom.
Overall, it will take something special to stop another reindeer from falling into the possession of the big two.