Petra Vlhova denies rival Shiffrin record win, earning 4th slalom victory of season

Petra Vlhova of Slovakia claimed a riveting World Cup women's slalom in Croatia's capital on Tuesday to deny Mikaela Shiffrin a record 47th win in any single discipline. Ali Nullmeyer was top Canadian, jumping from 17th spot to place a career-best fifth in 1:59.57.

Ali Nullmeyer battles tough conditions to finish as top Canadian in career-best 5th

Slovakia's Petra Vlhova produced a pair of flawless runs, recording a time of one minute 56.99 seconds to defeat American rival Mikaela Shiffrin in a World Cup slalom on Tuesday in Zagreb, Croatia. (Antonio Bronic/Reuters)

Only her Slovakian rival Petra Vlhova remained out of reach. Otherwise, Mikaela Shiffrin had a satisfying return to competition at a floodlit slalom Tuesday after testing positive for the coronavirus and missing two races last week.

The American stopped the clock in 1:57.49, trailing Vlhova by 5-10ths of a second in the first World Cup race of the calendar year.

"I think I had really good skiing," Shiffrin said from Zagreb, Croatia. "Especially after the last two weeks it's really wonderful to come back. That I could ski some of my best slalom is really cool."

Shiffrin, who on Monday was cleared to race, was the only competitor in tough race conditions to finish within two seconds of Vlhova's winning time as slalom world champion Katharina Liensberger in third was already a massive 2.11 seconds behind (1.59.10).

Toronto's Ali Nullmeyer was top Canadian, jumping from 17th spot to place a career-best fifth in 1:59.57, followed by teammates Roni Remme in 17th (2:01.10) and Amelia Smart 20th (2:01.43), both season-best placings. Erin Mielzynski was one of seven skiers to not finish.

So many from the slalom squad have had outstanding runs or races this season. It proves our level is there and we're knocking on the door.— Canadian alpine skier Amelia Smart

Nullmeyer, 23, turned in the fastest second run of the day — 1:00.68 to Shiffrin's 1:00.86 — and holding the lead for a brief period until the last 10 skiers.

"Today was very exciting," she told Alpine Canada. "I feel like my skiing's been there lately but I have had some big mistakes. I was really happy to have a solid second run today without those errors. It was also awesome to have so many Canadians in [the] second run showing our speed."

Ali Nullmeyer was top Canadian on Tuesday, climbing from 17th position after her first run to finish a career-high fifth on the World Cup circuit in a time of 1:59.57. (Antonio Bronic/Reuters)

"I think what makes it so exciting for all of us is that we know we can all be up [high in the standings], added 23-year-old Smart, from Invermere, B.C. "Hopefully we can keep going with this momentum because so many from the slalom squad have had outstanding runs or races this season. It proves our level is right up there and we're knocking on the door.

Positive COVID-19 test

"The track was tough today," she added. "It got pretty rutted but we were all impressed by how well the organizing committee prepared the slope. The warm weather didn't make it easy to have a good hill."

Two weeks ago, Shiffrin placed first and second, respectively, in two giant slaloms in France but tested positive for COVID-19 prior to two technical races in Austria the following week.

"After Courchevel my tank was totally empty, so I needed some time to rest, and then I got a lot of time to rest," Shiffrin said. "It wasn't really recovery and I wasn't able to do any real exercises or training for 10 or more days."

Vlhova won the slalom in the Lienzer Dolomites while Shiffrin was quarantining last week. She has won four of this season's five slaloms and leads the discipline standings by 140 points over Shiffrin with four races left. The American remained in the overall lead, 115 points ahead of her Slovakian rival.

Vlhova remained a step ahead of Shiffrin for her third straight win in the traditional first slalom race of the calendar year, which the American had won four times between 2013 and 2019.

Vlhova was delighted after seeing off her rivals on a difficult course littered with leaves from the nearby woods, with the snow deteriorating due to warm weather and a strong wind which forced the organizers to remove the finish-line banner.

"It was really tough because conditions were not so perfect," said Vlhova, who has won 11 of the last 17 World Cup slaloms. "Also, Zagreb is really long, so when you are entering the last pitch, you start to feel your legs, so you have to, like, breathe again and re-start again."

Seeking 1st-ever Olympic medal

The soft snow surface on the Crveni Spust course and gusts whipping up eddies of leaves made for challenging conditions, and the race had to be interrupted after 17 starters in the second run as organizers removed the finish line banner for safety reasons amid the increasing winds.

Shiffrin had hoped to break Ingemar Stenmark's record but she remains tied with the former Swedish men's great who has 46 giant slalom wins.

"I just wanted to ski cleanly through the gates knowing that a lot of the girls had problems," she told Eurosport.

The outcome will also be a major confidence boost for last season's overall World Cup winner Vlhova ahead of the Feb. 4-20 Beijing Olympics, where she will aim for her first-ever medal at the Games.

Vlhova tops the season's slalom standings on 480 points, 140 ahead of second-placed Shiffrin who leads the overall World Cup on 830 points. Vlhova is second on 715 points and Italian Sofia Goggia third on 657.

At least seven racers, including three from the Swiss team, had to sit out the event after testing positive for COVID-19, which requires a 10-day quarantine and a negative test before being allowed back onto the circuit.

No spectators were allowed at the race on the outskirts of the Croatian capital, which usually is among the best-visited events on the women's calendar.

The women's World Cup continues with a giant slalom and slalom in Kranjska Gora this weekend, an event that has been moved from another Slovenian resort, Maribor, because of a lack snow.

With files from Reuters and CBC Sports

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