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Slovakia’s Vlhova dominates 1st women’s World Cup slalom of season in Finland

Slovakian skier Petra Vlhova dominated the first women’s World Cup slalom of the season Saturday by clearly winning both runs in Levi, Finland, with Mikaela Shiffrin finishing in fourth.

The American, who raced with a bruised left knee following a training crash last week, trailed Vlhova by 0.42 seconds after the opening run but ultimately finished 1.70 behind.

Lena Duerr of Germany was 1.41 behind in second and former slalom world champion Katharina Liensberger placed third for the Austrian’s first podium result in 15 slaloms since January 2022.

Vlhova, who is the Olympic champion in the discipline, became the sixth skier in women’s World Cup history to win 20 career World Cup slaloms.

Shiffrin said the training accident did not affect her in the race.

“It’s not perfect, but it’s not holding me back from skiing strong,” she said. “Last week, we did a really good job to push into a kind of training in the gym, trying different things, different loading. By Thursday, I was able to do a full intensity training session.”

In an Instagram post the day before the race, Shiffrin said she felt “quite good now” after “she took a fair amount of impact through my left knee” when she straddled a gate and crashed during slalom training.

“I’m lucky [and so very grateful] to have come away with a bone bruise but no other major damage,” said Shiffrin, who won both slaloms here last year on her way to winning the discipline title for the seventh time.

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No skier other than the American or Vlhova has won the traditional season-opening slalom in Finnish Lapland since then-overall champion Tina Maze of Slovenia triumphed in 2014.

“Honestly, I didn’t expect such a gap between me and Lena and Katharina. But I feel good. I’m enjoying skiing and I feel confidence,” said Vlhova, now atop the overall standings having started the season by finishing third in a giant slalom in Austria two weeks ago in a race where Shiffrin placed sixth.

Laurence St-Germain, who beat Shiffrin to the slalom world title last February, trailed by 3.57 seconds in the first run and the Canadian skier failed to qualify for the second run.

Katharina Gallhuber, the 2018 Olympic bronze medalist, placed 13th in the Austrian’s first race in more than 600 days following a knee injury.

Amelia Smart was the lone Canadian participant, finishing 27th.

Another slalom on the same hill is scheduled for Sunday.

1st men’s World Cup downhill cancelled

The inaugural World Cup downhill at the storied Matterhorn mountain will have to wait at least one more day after a race Saturday was cancelled because of heavy snowfall and strong winds.

Race organizers called off plans for the men’s downhill soon after 6 a.m. local time at the new Gran Becca course that starts in Switzerland and finishes in Italy.

Another men’s downhill is scheduled Sunday on the high-altitude course that has yet to see a race because of weather issues, although a practice run was completed Wednesday under clear blue skies.

Back-to-back race weekends for men and women last year were cancelled because of warm temperatures. This year’s races were scheduled two weeks later into November to seek more winter-like weather.

Natural snow has fallen in abundance since organizers last month provoked criticism from environmental activists and an investigation by local public authorities for excavating snow at a nearby glacier to help prepare the course.

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The 3.8-kilometre Gran Becca was designed by Swiss former racer Didier Defago, the Olympic downhill champion at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games.

It starts near Zermatt at an altitude of about 3,700 metres and crosses the border to finish in Italy at Laghi Cime Bianche at 2,835 meters.

The International Ski and Snowboard Federation hopes the races can boost Alpine ski racing and tourism earlier in the winter and extend the season.

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