Mikaela Shiffrin Doubles Down on Wins (and Reindeer) in Levi

This article originally appeared on Ski Mag

"Thank you Levi!" Mikaela Shiffrin's words from atop the podium in Finland summed up what was a spectacular weekend for the American skier. Shiffrin took her second victory in as many days, kicking off her 2022-'23 World Cup campaign with a perfect score of 200 World Cup points.

Shiffrin's 49th slalom victory breaks her own record for wins in a single event, and brings her total World Cup victory tally to 76 (just six shy of Lindsey Vonn’s 82 and 1o short of Ingemar Stenmark’s all-time record of 86). For as much as it could in the four-ish hours of Lappland daylight, the sun shone on Shiffrin who won both runs of the day in a tightly contested race. Switzerland's Wendy Holdener unleashed a gutsy second run that moved her from fourth place up to second place, just .28 seconds behind Shiffrin. As she did on Saturday, Slovakia's Petra Vlhova landed on the podium, in third.

"Two races in a row like this is a really big effort," said Shiffrin, "so I am just really happy."

While the weekend sweep is an ideal way to start the season, Shiffrin acknowledges that the moments of success, while special, are also fleeting. "Even after 12 years [on the World Cup], I've realized I am never going to feel like 'I am there'. Now I am ok with that."

The strong start also shifts the balance of power in the ongoing slalom rivalry between Shiffrin and Vlhova. The two, both 27, have dominated the event in recent years, despite very different paths. Shiffrin's first victory came in December 2012, at age 16. She won the World Cup Slalom title that season and Olympic slalom gold the following season in Sochi 2014. Vlhova won her first World Cup in 2015. By 2019 she was second to Shiffrin in the overall slalom standings. She took the slalom title in 2020 and the Overall title in 2021. Then, at the 2022 Olympics, while Shiffrin struggled mightily, Vlhova finally had her golden Olympic moment.

Related: Shiffrin admits she is “pushing her limits” to keep up with her competitors in slalom

In Levi, success is measured in reindeer, the prize awarded since 2013 to each race's winner. To put the pair's dominance in perspective, only one woman other than Shiffrin or Vlhova--Tina Maze in 2014--had won a reindeer. Heading into the weekend, Vlhova had five, and Shiffrin four. After today, Shiffrin now has a herd of six.

Going into today's second run, Shiffrin held a slim .07-second lead over Germany's Lena Duerr, but admitted that if she was going to bet on anyone on the second run, including herself, it would have been the steely-nerved Vlhova. It was Holdener's second run, however, that seemed untouchable. It was, by everyone except Shiffrin. "I just tried to push really hard. I was actually really surprised," said Shiffrin. "She's so strong," said Shiffrin of Holdener. "I love to race with her. She's pushed my limit."

Holdener, who is still in search of her first slalom victory, claimed her 15th runner-up position in the event.

Three more of the seven Americans at the start--Paula Moltzan, Ava Sunshine and Katie Hensien--landed in the top 30 to qualify for a second run.

It turned out to be another day of heartbreak for Moltzan, who straddled on her first run yesterday. Moltzan finished 12th on the first run and was leading by more than .7 seconds on the second run when she caught a gate and fell hard.

Related: Cut from the U.S. Ski Team, Moltzan battled her way to Beijing

The second run saw the young Americans come out strong but encounter trouble on the swingy turns of the lower steep. Ultimately, they skied to finish to score World Cup points awarded to the top 30. For Hensien, in her 18th World Cup slalom start, it was her third time in the points. For Sunshine, it was her second time in the points in as many tries. The two finished 26th and 27th respectively.

Sunshine, 20, once again qualified for the second run, this time in 23rd place. Katie Hensien started with bib 58 and completed the first run in 29th position.

Sunshine's performances earned another start spot for American women in the slalom that the team will be able to use in the upcoming slalom at Killington.

The women's World Cup resumes next weekend on home turf in Killington, Vt., with a GS on Saturday, Nov. 26 and slalom on Sunday, Nov. 27. Here’s how to tune into the Killington races live.

2022 Levi World Cup Slalom #2 - Top 10 Results

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