Shiffrin wins 1st race after six-week injury layoff to lock up World Cup slalom season title

United States' Mikaela Shiffrin speeds down the course during an alpine ski, women's World Cup slalom, in Are, Sweden, Sunday, March 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Alessandro Trovati)

United States’ Mikaela Shiffrin speeds down the course during an alpine ski, women’s World Cup slalom, in Are, Sweden, Sunday, March 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Alessandro Trovati)

ARE, Sweden (AP) — All Mikaela Shiffrin has been really looking for in her first race back after a six-week injury layoff was “good skiing.”

What she got, though, was even by the American star’s standards “an insane way to return.”

Shiffrin made a triumphant comeback to the World Cup Sunday, dominating the season’s penultimate slalom for career win 96 and locking up her record-equaling eighth season title in the discipline.

Racing for the first time since hurting her left knee in a downhill crash in Italy, the two-time Olympic champion posted the fastest times in both runs to beat Croatian prodigy Zrinka Ljutic by a massive 1.24 seconds and third-placed Michelle Gisin of Switzerland by 1.34.

“It feels like we’re in a dream right now,” Shiffrin said after her sixth slalom win of the season and 59th overall. “There has been so much uncertainty coming into this race. The biggest goal I had was just… good skiing in the final races of the season, so I could sort of prove I have the right pace and the right mentality to close out the season, so next year I start in a better place.”

Shiffrin got much more than that. While she just edged out her competitors in the opening leg, she crushed the field in a free-flowing second run.

“This is an insane way to return,” she said. “It was so nice to race again today and some nerves and all the emotions that I hoped to feel. Really proud of my team, and for sure proud of myself to get back here and show the skiing. The second run was some of my best skiing. I am just so happy to be able to do that again this season.”

Shiffrin had been out since she sprained the MCL and tibiofibular ligament in her knee in January, while also still recovering from a bone bruise she had sustained at the start of the season.

The American, who turns 29 on Wednesday, was among a slew of World Cup, Olympic and world champions to crash hard in a packed January program, including her partner Aleksander Aamodt Kilde.

“The season has been just a wild one, full of ups and downs, I think for everybody,” Shiffrin said. “My own personal journey, there’s definitely been some frustrating moments these past weeks, so I was just trying to get back and hoping that I could get back.”

Shiffrin had just “four normal slalom sessions in the last seven weeks” coming into Sunday’s race.

“I was pushing the whole way, and when I feel the knee, it doesn’t distract me from skiing or from pushing my skis, so then that’s perfect,” she said. “I felt great with my first run skiing, but if I could be like a little bit more clean, it would feel better, also on the knee, so this run was like… I wouldn’t change one thing.”

With her Slovakian rival Petra Vlhova out for the season after knee surgery, the American’s only remaining challenger for the slalom season title was Lena Duerr.

The German skier had to win both Sunday’s race and the season-ending slalom at the World Cup finals in Austria next weekend to stay in contention, but finished fourth, 1.35 behind Shiffrin.

The season title is Shiffrin’s eighth in slalom, making her the fourth skier to win eight crystal globes – the traditional prize in Alpine skiing – in a single classification.

Former American teammate Lindsey Vonn achieved the feat in downhill. On the men’s side, Austrian standout Marcel Hirscher won eight overall championships, and Swedish great Ingemar Stenmark reached that number of titles in both slalom and GS.

The slalom makes up half of the American’s collection of 16 career globes, alongside her five overall championships, one super-G and two GS titles.

The slalom title will be Shiffrin’s only globe this season. She skipped Saturday’s giant slalom on the same hill and won’t compete in the speed events of the finals, leaving her without enough races to close the 345-point gap on leader Lara Gut-Behrami.

The Swiss star, who doesn’t compete in slalom, has all but secured her second overall title, after winning it for the first time in 2016, and is also a strong favorite to win the downhill, super-G, and GS titles.

Shiffrin had already made a winning return from an extensive mid-season break to nurse a knee injury. She didn’t race for nine weeks after getting hurt in December 2015, but won her comeback race at a slalom in Crans-Montana, Switzerland in February 2016.

The World Cup finals for both women and men wrap up the season over the next two weeks in Saalbach, the Austrian host venue of the 2025 world championships.

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