Shiffrin dazzles in World Cup opener

Sölden (Austria) (AFP) – Mikaela Shiffrin delivered a dazzling second run in the giant slalom on Saturday to take the ski World Cup season opener on the Soelden glacier.

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The American edged Swiss first-run leader Lara Gut-Behrami by 0.16sec for a 70th World Cup victory.

Slovakian Petra Vlhova, the winner of the overall World Cup title last season, was a distant third 1.3sec back.

"Starting off the season strong is important," Shiffrin told Eurosport in the finish area.

Shiffrin was 0.02sec slower than Gut-Behrami in the first run, but on a sparkling Alpine day produced a perfect second run.

"I'm super happy," she said. "It was a pleasure to ski today. I can't explain how good it felt to ski the hill. Thanks Soelden!"

This is her first giant slalom win since December 2020 when she won in Courchevel.

The women do not ski again until parallel slalom races in Lech, also in Austria, on November.

"It's early to start already racing in October you're like 'oh gosh, here we go!'" said Shiffrin, who gained her first World Cup giant slalom victory in Soelden in 2015 but had not won the race since.

"Sometimes people are not pushing so hard. They're almost using it like training. But you have to really attack this hill and I've learned that the hard way and I've learned that the good way. Today was a good one."

Shiffrin won the overall women's World Cup title for three straight years to 2019.

That streak ended with a horrible season marked by the sudden death of her father in February 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic and a back injury as she went winless for the first time since her debut campaign, 2011-12, when she was 16.

Last season she had three wins, one in the giant slalom and two in the slalom.

Italian Marta Bassino, the World Cup giant slalom champion last season when she opened with victory in Soelden, made a mistake in the first run, missing a gate and skiing out.