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Mikaela Shiffrin begins slalom season with a win

Mikaela Shiffrin begins slalom season with a win
Mikaela Shiffrin poses on the podium with "Santa Claus" after the FIS Alpine Ski World Cup women's slalom race in Levi, Finland, on Nov. 17. (Markku Ulander / AFP/Getty Images)

Mikaela Shiffrin started the women's World Cup slalom season in the same way she ended the previous one — with a clear victory.

The two-time overall champion built on a first-run lead to comfortably win the traditional opening race in Finnish Lapland on Saturday.

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Shiffrin defeated last year's winner, Petra Vlhova of Slovakia, by 0.58 seconds. Bernadette Schild of Austria, who posted the fastest second-run time, finished third, 0.79 off the lead.

Switzerland's Wendy Holdener, the runner-up to Shiffrin in the overall standings last season, was 0.85 seconds behind in fifth.

It was Shiffrin's 33rd career victory in a slalom, leaving her two wins shy of the World Cup record held by Austria's Marlies Raich — Schild's older sister.

“I felt well,” said Shiffrin, who won seven of nine World Cup slalom events last season, including the final one in March by a massive 1.58 seconds. “I was really able to push.”

On Saturday, strong winds in the upper part of the course forced organizers to postpone the race by 45 minutes and move the start gate lower down the mountain, reducing run times by 10 seconds.

“It wasn't a big problem,” said Shiffrin, who opened the race wearing No. 1. “It was the right decision, for sure. It's windy.”

Shiffrin dominated the opening run as only Olympic slalom champion Frida Hansdotter managed to finish within a half-second of her lead. Though the Swedish racer and several others led Shiffrin at the first split time, nobody matched the American's speed in the steep middle section of the course.

“It's tough to be good at both,” Shiffrin said. “There are some girls who are a touch faster than I was at the very top, but it's not so easy to have a good rhythm at the top and then a really good rhythm at the pitch as well.”

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