Swedish skier Swenn Larsson wins World Cup slalom with stars Shiffrin and Vlhova out injured

Swedish skier Anna Swenn Larsson earned her second career victory Sunday in the first women’s World Cup slalom in nearly 13 years with neither Mikaela Shiffrin nor Petra Vlhova competing.

The American star and her Slovakian rival, whose gripping duels have been dominating women’s slalom racing for years, are both out with knee injuries.

“It’s unbelievable, and for sure it’s sad that not the two queens are here, but I’m so happy to grab a victory,” Swenn Larsson said.

While Shiffrin still hopes to return over the next few weeks, Vlhova had her season ended when she tore ligaments in her right knee in January.

Shiffrin hurt her left knee, but avoided damage to the ligaments, while landing from a jump and crashing into the safety netting at a downhill in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, 16 days ago.

Swenn Larsson defended her first-run lead and beat Croatian prodigy Zrinka Ljutic by 0.35 seconds. After finishing, she lay down on the snow for 15 seconds.

“I didn’t see much of green lights in the first half of the season, but I have been feeling really well lately,” said the Swede, who has been hampered by persistent lower-back problems but secured a World Cup podium spot with a third-place finish in Jasna in January.

“From not qualifying and being 24th (at slaloms last November) in Levi, it’s a journey. I’m so proud of myself and of my team that worked really hard to get me back in shape,” she said.

Swenn Larsson previously shared a win with Wendy Holdener in Killington, Vermont, in November 2022 and was one of just five starters in Sunday’s race who had won a World Cup slalom before.

“It’s a dream come true. Even if it was so nice to share the first victory with Wendy, it’s special to stand on the top by yourself as well,” she said.

Shiffrin’s teammate Paula Moltzan was 0.83 behind in third for her second career slalom podium, less than 14 months after she was runner-up to Shiffrin at a night race in Austria.

“It’s kind of been a season with highs and lows. So, happy to finally take a step on the podium,” Moltzan said. “The emotions are all there and I’m super happy.”

Moltzan’s achievement came a day after AJ Hurt finished third in a giant slalom. On Sunday, Hurt was 13th after the opening leg but straddled a gate in her all-attacking second run and didn’t finish.

The last World Cup slalom where neither Shiffrin nor Vlhova took part was at the 2010-11 season finals in Switzerland on March 18, 2011.

Shiffrin has missed eight of the 117 slaloms since. The American, who holds the World Cup record of 58 slalom wins, and Vlhova combined to win 80 of those 117 events.

Shiffrin leads the season standings after winning five of the nine slaloms so far. Her only remaining challenger for the globe, Lena Duerr, trails the American by 188 points with only two events remaining. A race win is worth 100 points.

Duerr, who needed to finish no lower than ninth Sunday to stay in contention, was 1.38 seconds behind Swenn Larsson in sixth.

After her first run, Duerr said she was “not at all” affected by thoughts about her chances of closing in on leader Shiffrin.

“It’s obvious people start asking me about it with Petra and Mikaela missing, but for me the approach to the race is exactly the same. It doesn’t change anything for me,” Duerr said.

If seven-time winner Shiffrin takes the discipline title again, she would match the World Cup record jointly held by Lindsey Vonn and Ingemar Stenmark, who each had eight titles in a single discipline — Vonn in downhill, Stenmark in both slalom and GS.

The penultimate slalom of the season is scheduled for Are, Sweden, on March 10, a week before the World Cup finals start in Austria.

The women’s World Cup next travels to Switzerland for three speed races in Crans-Montana starting Friday.

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