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Dominant Vlhova snaps Shiffrin’s winning slalom streak

January 4, 2020 GMT
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From left, runner-up United States' Mikaela Shiffrin , the winner Slovakia's Petra Vlhova, and third placed Austria's Katharina Liensberger, celebrate on podium after an alpine ski, women's World Cup slalom in Zagreb, Croatia, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020. (AP Photo/Gabriele Facciotti)
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From left, runner-up United States' Mikaela Shiffrin , the winner Slovakia's Petra Vlhova, and third placed Austria's Katharina Liensberger, celebrate on podium after an alpine ski, women's World Cup slalom in Zagreb, Croatia, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020. (AP Photo/Gabriele Facciotti)

ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) — Mikaela Shiffrin hugged her biggest rival in slalom for a few seconds and gave her some pats on the back.

Just beaten by Petra Vlhova in the first women’s World Cup race of 2020 on Saturday, the American three-time overall champion was gracious in defeat after seeing her winning streak in slaloms, which had lasted for almost a year, ended by the Slovakian skier.

“Petra just did an amazing job both runs. She skied really well today. That’s the fight and it is really an honor to be part of that,” Shiffrin said.

Building on a big lead of more than one second from the first leg, Vlhova was also the fastest in the final run to extend her advantage over Shiffrin to 1.31 seconds.

“This victory for me is important,” Vlhova said. “I knew Miki was very fast (in the final run). If I wanted to win, I had to risk all the time.”

Austria’s Katharina Liensberger trailed by a massive 3.49 seconds in third, while Wendy Holdener of Switzerland took fourth spot.

“Three-something is too much,” Vlhova said about the difference between the top two and the rest of the field.

“It is like this, we are on another level, me and Mikaela,” she added.

Vlhova and Shiffrin were so far ahead that even a deficit of five seconds was still enough to make it into the top 10.

Shiffrin had won all six World Cup races and the world championship event in the discipline since Vlhova last beat her in Flachau, Austria, on Jan. 8, 2019.

The pair have won all 24 World Cup slaloms since Frida Hansdotter triumphed in January 2017. The Olympic champion from Sweden retired last year.

Shiffrin and Vlhova are also 1-2 in the season’s slalom and overall standings, with the American leading by 120 and 313 points, respectively.

Their next slalom duel will be in 10 days’ time in Flachau.

“Some days I am perfect, some days I am like so-so, but with Miki you have to be always perfect,” Vlhova said. “I want to be more stable with my runs.”

For Shiffrin, the competition with Vlhova helps her to further improve.

“Since Petra has been much stronger the last few years, it definitely brings my motivation to another level,” the American said. “She with her team, they are one of the few teams who have been able to out-do what I have been able to accomplish with my team. I have a lot of respect for that.”

Vlhova earned her 11th career victory, and sixth in slalom, but had never before won on this hill after finishing runner-up in 2017 and again last year.

Needing to make up 1.16 seconds on Vlhova in the final leg, Shiffrin used an attacking and error-free run to put pressure on Vlhova, who was the last starter.

Vlhova then kept calm and bettered Shiffrin’s time by 0.15 to take the win.

She had opened the race earlier with a near-flawless first run. While several racers, including Shiffrin, were faster at the first split time, no one matched Vlhova’s consistency on the steep section of the course.

Shiffrin held a slim lead of 0.03 seconds at the first intermediate time but was nearly thrown off the course soon after. While she rescued her run by placing her left hand in the snow to make the next gate, her speed and rhythm were gone.

Shiffrin was then eight-tenths behind at the next split time.

The race came one day after Shiffrin posted a video on Instagram of a crash during slalom training in Obdach, Austria.

The footage showed her falling sideways after her skis crossed as she hit a gate, but Shiffrin said the mishap didn’t affect her race.

“I was just pretty sore,” she said. “The only effect it had was that I had to stop training because it was on the first run of my last day of slalom training.”

Shiffrin had won the race on the Crveni Spust course, on the outskirts of the Croatian capital, four out of the previous five times it had been held.

A men’s race on the same hill is scheduled for Sunday.

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(This story has been corrected to show that Vlhova’s winning margin was 1.31 seconds, not 1.32 seconds.)