Mikaela Shiffrin takes 2nd place during the Audi FIS Alpine Ski World Cup Women's Slalom on Nov. 21, 2020 in Levi, Finland.
Mikaela Shiffrin summed things up succinctly prior to her return to the world cup.
“Nothing’s changed,” the two-time alpine skiing Olympic gold medalist said, “but also everything’s changed.”
Shiffrin returned to the starting gate Saturday for the first time in 10 months and showed that little has changed in her skiing. Picking up right where she left off, Shiffrin battled Slovakian rival Petra Vlhova to a second-place finish, with Vlhova taking the win by .18 of a second in the women’s slalom opener in Levi, Finland.
The result kept intact a streak of 27 women’s slalom races dating back to January 2017 in which one of the two has won.
However, Saturday’s race 110 miles north of the Arctic Circle in the Finnish Lapland also marked Shiffrin’s first Jan. 26, 2020. The two-time Olympian and three-time medalist was in the midst of another strong season when her dad, Jeff Shiffrin, died unexpectedly on Feb. 2. Shiffrin returned home for several weeks and, although she retuned to Europe in March, the pandemic ultimately shut down the season. Shiffrin then missed the world cup opener a month ago in Austria due to a back injury.
“I’m excited to race,” she said prior to the race. “I feel like racing is actually going to be a break … like going on vacation, which is not really how I used to think about it, but right now, I’m so grateful to be here, and I’m really excited to just get in the start gate again and ski some slalom.”
The 25-year-old hardly showed any rust on Saturday, coming out with a clean first run to finish in 54.34 seconds. However, Vlhova edged her by .15 of a second in that run, and the story played out the same in the second run, where they again finished 1-2 and this time Vlhova led by .03 of a second.
Shiffrin has won a record four races in Levi, all slalom, and will have another opportunity for a fifth on Sunday when another women’s slalom is held there.
The dominant skier for the past eight years, Shiffrin has developed into a dangerous all-around skier, but she’s still at her best in the slalom. She’s won the world cup slalom title a shared record six times dating back to 2013, and going into this weekend had won a record 43 world cup slalom races. Even despite missing the end of last season, Shiffrin still finished as runner-up to Vlhova in the season standings by a mere 20 points.