KRANJSKA GORA – Petra Vlhova cemented her status as the season’s top slalom skier with her fifth win in six races on Sunday just one month away from the Olympic race in Beijing.
The overall World Cup champion Slovakia won the penultimate slalom before the Games, denying Switzerland’s Wendy Holdener, leader of the first round, a first career victory.
Mikaela Shiffrin was third after the first run, but skied in what appeared to be an extremely fast second run until the American stepped over a gate.
It was the first time in nearly four years that Shiffrin had failed to complete a slalom. In January 2018, she skied in the second round of a race in Lenzerheide, Switzerland, the last slalom before the Pyeongchang Olympics.
Shiffrin beat Vlhova to win her home race in Killington, Vt. In November, but every other slalom this season has been on the Slovaks’ side.
“I always try to be the best, to be the fastest in the race. I’m mostly happy with my second run, ”said Vlhova.
After Holdener at eight hundredths of a second, Vlhova set the fastest time in the second run to put pressure on the Swiss leader as the last starter.
Competing in his 100th career slalom, Holdener maintained his lead for the first half of his race, but eventually finished 0.23 behind Vlhova. Anna Swenn Larsson of Sweden was 1.06 behind in third.
Swenn Larsson returned to the podium for the first time in nearly two years, after being sidelined last season with a knee injury.
“It’s been a long road with my injury last season,” said Swenn Larsson. “I’m super happy, it’s amazing. I’m proud to be back.
Vlhova called the race a “big fight” after criticizing the course conditions after days of snowfall in the Slovenian resort.
“This morning I was a little angry because when I saw the conditions they weren’t perfect, not like a World Cup race,” said Vlhova.
“In the second run, I got everything perfect. In the end it’s another victory, so I’m happy because my team, they do everything to keep me in perfect shape.
It was the Slovakian’s 25th career victory. She leads the discipline standings with 240 more points than finalist Shiffrin. The American, however, remains at the top of the general classification, 35 points ahead of Vlhova.
World Cup and slalom champion Katharina Liensberger of Austria also straddled a gate in her second run.
The result meant yet another heartbreak for Holdener.
The Swiss skier racked up 29 podiums in the slalom without winning a race. No other skier in World Cup history, whether women’s or men’s, has achieved more top-three results in a single discipline without a win.
“I skied really well, made one mistake too many, but I went so I’m happy,” said Holdener. “I think I gave myself the chance to win, that’s why I’m happy.”
Her Swiss teammate Michelle Gisin skied early in her first run when she straddled the third gate.
Last season, Gisin became the first Swiss skier to win a women’s slalom in almost 19 years. Gisin and Liensberger are the only skiers other than Shiffrin and Vlhova to have won a slalom since January 2017.
Shiffrin’s second round exit left Paula Moltzan leading the US ski team in 13th place. Suffering from a broken wrist, Moltzan skis with the stick stuck to his left glove. She also challenged knee pain after falling in Saturday’s giant slalom on the same hill.
No spectators were allowed at the event, which had been relocated from another Slovenian station, Maribor, due to a lack of snow.
The next race is a night slalom in Schladming, Austria on Tuesday at a relocated event in Flachau, which has been hit by a recent surge in coronavirus infections.
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