Shiffrin shines to finish second on return after 10-month absence

Levi (Finland) (AFP) –


US ski star Mikaela Shiffrin shrugged off a near 10-month absence which she described as "sad and stressful" to finish second behind Petra Vlhova in the World Cup slalom at the Finnish resort of Levi on Saturday.

"It's been 300 days since she was last in the start gate, and she didn’t miss a beat," the US Ski and Snowboard Team tweeted.

The three-time overall World Cup winner was all set for a fourth consecutive overall World Cup title when she ended last season abruptly after the sudden death of her father.

A bad back then forced the 25-year-old to skip the season-opener in Soelden.

Shiffrin was just 15 hundredths of a second behind Slovakia'a Vlhova in the first run.

Vlhova, who capitalised on Shiffrin's absence earlier in the year by claiming the discipline's crystal globe, was quickest again in the second run to finish 0.18 seconds ahead of Shiffrin overall and secure her 15th World Cup victory.

"After everything that has happened it is really cool to just ski a race and get a podium," said Shiffrin who admitted that the 10 months since her father Jeff died had been a dark period.

"It's been busy and sad and stressful and not a lot of training. So it's been really hard to imagine being here again and racing and being on the podium," she said.

"I almost didn't dare to imagine it. I didn't want to be disappointed about that.. it seems so stupid about not being on the podium when other really bad things can happen and are happening.

"So I have been trying to keep my priorities straight, a pretty interesting 300 days."

Shiffrin said that over the past months she had wanted to "figure out" whether she wanted to carry on skiing and "move forward" with life.

"There is a name for when you go through a really big tragedy and afterwards there are some pieces of your life that are a little bit better than before because your priorities change.

"You enjoy the moments with family more or other specific things... I enjoy a second place more than I did before because I was pushing and had some good skiing and it was the best I could do today.

"I felt I could be more proud of that than I used to be.

"Bad things happen all the time and we are all experiencing that this year.

"It's incredible that we are even here and able to race at all, that's something we can all be happy about."

- 'Not perfect' -

It was the 25-year-old Vlhova's 10th World Cup slalom win and her fourth in a row, three of which have come with Shiffrin in the field.

"I did two good runs but not perfect," said the Slovakian. "But I won and tomorrow it can be better."

Behind the two favourites came Austrian Katharina Liensberger who finished 0.57 seconds behind Vlhova. The two Swiss challengers, Wendy Holdener and Michelle Gisin, came in fourth and fifth respectively.

Anna Swenn-Larsson, ranked fifth in the world in the event, was among the Swedish skiers who were not permitted to compete by Finnish authorities after their coach tested positive for coronavirus.

Vlhova, gold medallist in the giant slalom at the world championships in Are in 2019, leads the overall World Cup standings with 160 points, 47 ahead of the Italian Marta Bassino. Shiffrin is level fourth with 80 points.

The women face a second slalom race on Sunday.

"It will be another day, another race, anything can happen," said Vlhova.