By The Associated Press on January 21, 2024.
JASNA, Slovakia (AP) – Mikaela Shiffrin earned her record-extending career win 95 by triumphing in a women’s World Cup slalom Sunday, a day after the American ski star’s main rival sustained a season-ending injury.
In the first race without Olympic slalom champion Petra Vlhova, Shiffrin edged out Croatian teenager Zrinka Ljutic by 0.14 seconds. Sweden’s Anna Swenn Larsson in third and Switzerland’s Camille Rast in fourth were the only other racers to finish within a second of Shiffrin’s time.
“We’re missing somebody really big today, we missed Petra a lot, so it’s wonderful that you stayed,” Shiffrin addressed the Slovakian spectators in a course-side interview.
It was Shiffrin’s fifth slalom win of the season and her 58th in total, a World Cup record for both men and women.
Shiffrin also set a record for most World Cup podiums in a single discipline with 82, having shared the previous best mark with Swedish great Ingemar Stenmark, who had 81 top-three results in slalom in the 1970s and ’80s.
Vlhova crashed and tore ligaments in her right knee in Saturday’s giant slalom near her hometown in the Tatra mountains.
Shiffrin and Vlhova have been dominating women’s slalom skiing for years and combined to win 14 of the last 15 races, including all eight this season, in a series only interrupted by Lena Duerr when the German triumphed at the Czech resort Spindleruv Mlyn a year ago.
“I don’t like it when (Vlhova) beats me but I love this battle. So, I’m wishing her a fast and strong recovery. This is really important for the sport, not just here in Jasna,” Shiffrin said.
“I have been thinking about her a lot the last 24 hours. For me, personally, over these years I have grown to love the battles with her. I think today she would have been so strong. So, I really miss watching her ski today and having that battle.”
Shiffrin built what looked like a comfortable lead of 0.52 seconds over Ljutic in the opening run, but almost came up short in the second.
“It was not easy on the second (run), now I feel the energy has gone,” she said. “I could hear (the fans) cheering for Zrinka, which was actually quite cool from the start to hear this noise. I knew she put down an amazing run and I had to push.”
Shiffrin was just 0.02 seconds ahead at the penultimate checkpoint, but had a strong finish to deny the Croatian her first win.
“I felt a little less on my timing than the first run,” Shiffrin said. “In the end, it was a really nice show because, for me, it was like pushing as hard as I could.”
Ljutic, who turns 20 next Friday, is regarded by many as a potential future star of the sport. Coming runner-up in Sunday’s race marked her career-best World Cup result, after one podium a year ago.
“It feels great, I’m really happy. I’m proud of myself for putting two really good runs and for managing this pressure in the second run,” Ljutic said. “I’m really sorry for Petra, she was skiing so well.”
With Vlhova out of the race, Shiffrin is close to wrapping up her eighth World Cup season title in slalom, leading third-ranked Duerr by 228 points with three events left. With a race win being worth 100 points, Shiffrin can secure the title at the next slalom in Soldeu, Andorra, on Feb. 11.
On Sunday, Duerr was 1.77 seconds off the lead in seventh.
Vlhova became the third former overall champion who had their season end prematurely this month. On the men’s side, Alexis Pinturault and Aleksander Aamodt Kilde underwent surgery for various injuries after they crashed at speed races in Wengen, Switzerland.
Laurence St-Germain of Saint-Ferréol-les-Neiges, Que., and Toronto’s Ali Nullmeyer finished 22nd and 25th, respectively.
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