LEVI, Finland — Slovakian skier Petra Vlhova wasted no time in confirming her status as Mikaela Shiffrin’s main rival for slalom success in the Olympic season.
At the first World Cup race in the discipline, Vlhova trailed Shiffrin by 0.21 on Saturday after the opening leg but used a near-perfect second run to finish in 1 minute, 49.98 seconds and edge the overall World Cup champion by 0.10.
“I feel great and I am really happy that I beat Mikaela because she is really strong and fast,” Vlhova said.
Wendy Holdener of Switzerland was 1.35 behind in third with the rest of the field finishing more than two seconds behind. Frida Hansdotter of Sweden, the only skier other than Shiffrin to win the slalom World Cup title in the past five years, was third after the opening run but dropped to fourth.
It was Vlhova’s third career win. She also beat Shiffrin in March at the World Cup finals in Aspen, Colorado, after the American had wrapped up her first overall title. The Olympic gold medalist also won her third world slalom title last season.
Vlhova had been tipped as Shiffrin’s closest competitor since Slovakian teammate Veronika Velez Zuzulova, who was runner-up to the American last season, suffered a severe knee injury in September.
“I have been training very hard because it is the Olympic season,” Vlhova said. “But now the goal is (to compete) for the World Cup. End of January I start to think about the Olympic Games.”
Shiffrin won the traditional first slalom of the season in Finnish Lapland twice, in 2013 and again last year.
Each of the 14 previous times she was leading in a slalom race after the opening run, she won the race.
Shiffrin increased her lead over Vlhova to 0.23 at the first split time of her final run, but lost time on the steep middle section and could not make up enough on the flats before the finish.
After missing out on her 32nd career victory, she said it was “OK to have another podium.”
“But I know, Petra, she is really hammering. She is pushing a lot,” Shiffrin said.
Shiffrin set the pace in the opening leg with an aggressive and dynamic run. She came wide at a turn on the steep part of the course but quickly regained her rhythm.
“I was pretty clean for the most parts so I can be a little bit more precise maybe in a couple of gates,” she said. “But it felt like a good run. It was really fun to ski.”
Shiffrin finished fifth in the season-opening giant slalom in Austria two weeks ago, when she complained about stiff legs.
“I had a much better feeling today,” Shiffrin said. “This morning when I woke up I was a little bit nervous but when I went into the starting gate I sort of relaxed and tried to push me for that run.”
A men’s World Cup slalom on the same course is scheduled for Sunday.