KILLINGTON, Vt. — Before the first World Cup slalom race of the season in Levi, Finland, earlier this month, Mikaela Shiffrin spent time training with Petra Vlhova of Slovakia. The sessions were competitive and intense.
“She would have a really fast run, then I would have a really fast run,’’ Shiffrin said.
When they were done, Vlhova thanked Shiffrin because training together motivated her.
“And I was like fuming because I hate training with anyone that’s close to me,’’ Shiffrin said, acknowledging the emerging rivalry between the two 22-year-olds.
But on Sunday at Killington, Shiffrin reminded the ski racing world she’s still at the top of the slalom game. Shiffrin dominated both runs — no one skied either one faster — and beat Vlhova by 1.64 seconds. It was Shiffrin’s 21st podium appearance in the last 22 World Cup slalom races and her 17th career World Cup slalom victory.
“When I ski really good slalom, it almost feels like I’m flying, and I had a bit of that feeling both runs today, which was a really good feeling to have,’’ Shiffrin said.
Vlhova has emerged as a real threat to Shiffrin. She won the final slalom race last season as well as the slalom in Levi, beating Shiffrin by .24 and .10 seconds, respectively, in those events. Shiffrin said Vlhova’s performances, and what she saw when they trained together, has also motivated her.
“She wants to win, and she works really hard for it. It’s not like anybody else doesn’t, but I see something different in her that it makes me want to be better,’’ Shiffrin said. “Not just to win races, but to hold myself to a higher standard of skiing. So it’s really cool to compete with someone who does that.’’
Shiffrin, who arrived as the defending champion at Killington, was the only skier to complete the 1,880-foot course in less than 50 seconds in the first run. She led Wendy Holdener of Switzerland by .89 seconds and was 1.29 seconds ahead Austria’s Bernadette Schild.
But Vlhova made her move in the second run, and moved up three places.
She thought a mistake early in the second run cost her a shot at the podium, but she had the second-fastest afternoon run.
“I was a little surprised when I crossed the finish, but I was much better second run, and I’m happy with second place,’’ she said.
Vlhova and Shiffrin were really in a league of their own Sunday. Every other competitor was more than a second slower, and the gap between first place and last place Sunday was 5.49 seconds.
Shiffrin’s victory gave another enormous Killington crowd exactly what it wanted. Her aggressive approach, her fluid turns — there were 59 to make on Killington’s Superstar trail — and her poise electrified the crowd and had US Ski Team officials slapping high-fives and embracing after her winning time flashed on the video board.
Shiffrin will now turn her attention to speed races as the World Cup circuit heads to Lake Louise in Canada, but she knows what awaits when slalom reappears on the World Cup schedule and later this winter at the Olympics — another potential showdown with Vlhova.
“It’s going to be a really cool rivalry this year,’’ Shiffrin said.