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Shiffrin caps injury-marred ski season with record-extending 60th win in slalom and 97th overall

SAALBACH-HINTERGLEMM, Austria (AP) — For Mikaela Shiffrin, the award for the best slalom skier this season is different from the 15 crystal globes the American star won earlier in her career.

This one, for a change, doesn’t feel like the end of a season.

Shiffrin capped her campaign that was marred by a recent six-week injury layoff with her record-extending 60th win in slalom and 97th overall at the World Cup finals Saturday.

She had already locked up her record-equaling eighth slalom season title last week by winning her first race back since hurting her knee in a downhill crash Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy in January, but globes are only handed over after the last race.

“It was like a middle season for me. I’m probably the most excited one to be here. Everyone wants to be home and I’m like: ‘No! We’ve just started again’,” said Shiffrin, adding her feeling had “a lot to do with the crowd here cheering so much. It gives this emotion like what we want to feel at races, so I’m already excited to be back.”

Shiffrin, who turned 29 on Wednesday, said on Instagram the slalom would be her last race of the season, skipping Sunday’s giant slalom and next week’s speed events.

“I am so happy to have these final two races, like they give me something to be really proud of,” Shiffrin said.

The two-time Olympic champion sprained the MCL and tibiofibular ligament in her knee, while also still recovering from a bone bruise she had sustained at the start of the season, when she 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.

“Oh wow, it’s been a wild season,” Shiffrin said. “I am excited to see Alex, I am excited to go home, but I don’t want the season to be over.”

Shiffrin won nine of the 21 races she competed in this season, but had to concede the overall title after missing too many races when nursing her knee injury. The American has won the big globe five times since 2017, with Swiss skier Lara Gut-Behrami all but confirmed as the new champion.

“I think it was quite a learning experience. There is always something you learn every season,” Shiffrin said. “This one taught me a lot about patience, a lot about trust, a lot about communication, and learning how to manage pain and still ski. Those are really important things that I hope will be useful for the rest of my career.”

On Saturday, Shiffrin trailed Anna Swenn Larsson of Sweden after the first run but ultimately won the season-ending slalom by 0.54 seconds from Mina Fuerst Holtmann of Norway, while Swenn Larsson dropped to third, 0.63 off the pace.

Winning back-to-back races to wrap up her season left Shiffrin three victories short of the 100-win mark, a milestone long deemed unreachable.

With key rivals Petra Vlhova and Wendy Holdener ending their campaigns prematurely with injuries, Shiffrin has won seven slaloms this season, raising her career tally to 60. No other skier, male or female, has won more than 46 races in a single discipline.

Asked in a course-side TV interview about her numbers of wins, Shiffrin took a breath before answering.

“Just a little bit hard to process it all. It’s like these days just make me feel so invigorated, like so alive, and that’s what I’m focusing on. I’m trying to soak that all in,” she said.

“I never really focused too much on the numbers, but now I feel OK with them, like it’s not pressure, it’s not anything, it’s just an honor.”

On a first-run course set by Shiffrin’s coach Karin Harjo, Swenn Larsson was 0.11 second faster than Shiffrin.

“I felt really good on my skis, I thought my equipment for this run was really good set up. I was pushing,” said Shiffrin, referring to the challenging course conditions after overnight rain softened the snow.

“It was quite OK, so I could ski how I wanted. Ideally, I can be maybe a little bit more clean on a couple of sections, but actually I think I pushed about to my maximum there.”

The next women’s race at the finals is the giant slalom on Sunday, when Gut-Behrami starts with a 95-point lead over her Italian challenger Federica Brignone.

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More AP skiing: https://apnews.com/hub/alpine-skiing

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