Reigning overall Audi FIS World Cup champion Mikaela Shiffrin (USA) showed that she will once again be the skier to beat this season, producing a characteristically powerful performance to win the year’s opening race in Levi, Finland.
Anna Swenn Larsson (SWE) came second (+0.16) with Petra Vlhova (SVK) third (+0.20).
It was Shiffrin’s fifth victory on the tough Levi Black piste, bringing her level with eternal slalom rival Vlhova. The pair have won every women’s World Cup race in Levi dating back to 2015.
The result also looks like a confident first step in the American’s quest to become the most decorated World Cup skier in history.
“It’s a bit hard to explain what it means because it’s a pretty big number, actually,” said Shiffrin, who is third all-time in World Cup wins behind Ingemar Stenmark (86) and Vonn (82). “So many years I’ve been racing now. Every single race that I won had some special meaning. I don’t think, as a human, I can feel that many emotions at one time. Actually, I don’t think about 75. I just think about this one.”
“It’s the first race of the season and I’m feeling good with my skiing, my skis felt amazing,” said Shiffrin. “I have a different team this season and it was smooth, it paid off.”
Shiffrin had been third after the first run, but brought her trademark magic to the second. Tidy on the flatter sections, she built up remarkable speed on the steep mid-section, and finished in style.
“It was a nice feeling on the first run, I felt pretty good, but I was holding back a little bit,” she said. “On the second run I made adjustments and it felt like a really good pace and tempo. I was strong and solid everywhere.”
Shiffrin had trained in Levi for a fortnight before the race, the first time she has prepared in such a way. “Last year I felt jetlagged, all week, I was awake from 1am to 7am every night, I didn’t eat well,” she said. “This year I didn’t have the jetlag, I feel fit and strong. It paid off.”
Only one question remained – what would she be naming her fifth Lapland reindeer, the traditional prize at Levi? “I don’t have any ideas but we can have a debrief later with the team. I’ll come up with the name later, or tomorrow. I never think about a name before I race, because I don’t want to jinx it.”
Anna Swenn Larsson (SWE) produced her best ever finish in Levi to grab silver. Having been plagued by injuries and Covid-19 setbacks over previous seasons, the Swede was overjoyed with her performance.
“It was super nice to be back racing, and always a pleasure to be back in Levi,” she said. “I am super happy. it is the perfect start to the season. Tomorrow I will try to be a bit more aggressive in the first part of the ski.”
Petra Vlhova (SVK), who has won the previous four straight slaloms in Levi, had to settle for bronze. A below average first run cost her, but on the second she showed the power, strength and skill which allow her to take risks and get back on balance. She will doubtless be back in contention tomorrow.
“It was difficult, and in some parts I could have been better,” admitted Vlhova. “But it was good fighting, and I’m looking forward to going again tomorrow. Finally we can kick off the season and enjoy it. I will try to do everything tomorrow to take a sixth (Levi race win).”
Lena Duerr (GER) will have been the day’s most frustrated athlete. Having always struggled with second runs – and having gone from first place to fourth in the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games slalom – Duerr suffered the fate again in Finland.
She had led after a controlled performance on run one, but missed out on the podium again, ending up +0.75 behind Shiffrin.
Racing resumes on Sunday with a second Audi FIS World Cup title on the line – but supercharged Shiffrin isn’t counting on back-to-back glory.
“Tomorrow is a new day, a different course setting,” she said. “I’ll have confidence for about 15 or 20 minutes tonight then I’ll be nervous again, it doesn’t change. There’s are five or six girls with a good chance tomorrow.”