Petra Vlhova halts Mikaela Shiffrin's slalom win streak
Slovakian prevails by 1.31 seconds in Croatia over American 3-time overall champ
Mikaela Shiffrin's winning streak in slaloms, which had lasted for almost a year, was ended by Petra Vlhova in the first women's World Cup race of 2020 on Saturday.
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 the American three-time overall champion to 1.31 seconds.
Austria's Katharina Liensberger trailed by a massive 3.49 seconds in third, while Wendy Holdener of Switzerland took fourth spot.
"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."
WATCH | Petra Vlhova takes opening slalom of 2020:
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.
Canada's Smart a personal-best 17th
Laurence St-Germain of St-Ferréol-les-Neiges, was the top Canadian in 11th, six spots ahead of Amelia Smart.
"I'm really happy about my second run," St-Germain, who was ninth in late December at Lienz, Austria, told Alpine Canada. "I wish I was able to put two [runs] together but … I skied well.
Saturday's race was a personal-best finish for Smart of Invermere, B.C.
"My plan was ski like I know how and just push it," she said. "I felt pretty good, had some good training days leading up to this race."
Smart's teammates Erin Mielzynski of Collingwood, Ont., and Toronto's Ali Nullmeyer did not qualify for the second run.
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.
Near-flawless 1st run
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 the Slovakian skier, who was the last starter.
She did all that she could do, but Mikaela Shiffrin lands in 2nd and will have to wait to score her 44th slalom win<br><br>She'll have to wait to beat Lindsey Vonn's all-time women's World Cup record in a single discipline <a href="https://t.co/6fYyiKDZuO">https://t.co/6fYyiKDZuO</a> <a href="https://t.co/d2eP7pXIwO">pic.twitter.com/d2eP7pXIwO</a>—@CBCOlympics
Vlhova then kept calm and bettered the American'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 was gone.
Sore hip after crash in training
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 according to the U.S. team she was unhurt "apart from a bit of a sore hip."
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.
With files from CBC Sports