US teenager Shiffrin wins WCup slalom opener

MALIN RISING (Associated Press)
The Associated Press

LEVI, Finland (AP) -- American teenager Mikaela Shiffrin easily won the World Cup slalom opener Saturday, beating reigning Olympic champion Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany by more than a second to send an immediate message to her rivals ahead of the Sochi Games.

The 18-year-old slalom world champion led by half a second after the first run and raced seamlessly at the top of the hill in the second to extend her advantage, overcoming a mistake near the end to clock a combined time of 1 minute, 55.07 seconds.

Hoefl-Riesch, who was in a tie for third place after the first run, skied nearly flawlessly in the second but still finished 1.06 seconds behind in second place. Last year's overall World Cup champion Tina Maze of Slovenia, who struggled in the giant slalom opener in Soelden last month, was third, 1.61 back.

Shiffrin emerged as a major star in the discipline last season by winning both the World Cup slalom title and the world championship race, making her one of the major medal favorites for the Sochi Olympics. Her dominant display on Saturday did little to lower expectations on the teenager.

''She's an amazing skier,'' Hoefl-Riesch said of Shiffrin. ''We already knew that from last year, she is such a talented girl and strong in her head and we will have lots of fun with her the next 10 years I guess.''

Marlies Schild of Austria, the slalom specialist who injured her knee in December 2012, returned for the first time since recovering fully but was already well behind Shiffrin in the first round by the time she missed a gate and skied out.

Still, Schild was just happy to finally be able to ski without feeling any effects of the injury.

''Of course I wanted to race a second run but yeah, it's not so bad at all,'' Schild said. ''I'm in a good shape, I have no pain anymore and that's very important for me and I just have to wait, I think, to get a good feeling.''

Four-time former overall World Cup champion Lindsey Vonn skipped the Levi meet and will make her debut in the speed events in Beaver Creek, Colorado, after recovering from a right knee injury sustained in a crash in February.

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