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Katharina Liensberger ends Mikaela Shiffrin’s slalom reign at world championships

Austria's Katharina Liensberger earned the first top-level, outright win of her career in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy on Saturday, where she defeated Mikaela Shiffrin in slalom at the World Alpine Skiing Championships.

Austrian Katharina Liensberger handed Mikaela Shiffrin her first defeat in a world championships slalom, notching the first top-level, outright win of her career in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, on Saturday.

Liensberger, a 23-year-old who formerly had professional harpist aspirations, prevailed by one second over Slovakian Petra Vlhova combining times from two runs.

Shiffrin, who won a record four consecutive world championships slaloms from 2013-19, improved from fourth after the first run to take bronze.

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Shiffrin finished the world championships with four medals, including combined gold, the most medals for any skier at a single worlds since Swede Anja Pärson in 2007. She ran her career total to 11 world championships medals, tying Pärson’s female record for the most at standalone worlds since World War II.

Asked if she was happy with her performance over the two-week worlds, Shiffrin said, “That’s a huge resounding yes.”

“I never imagined that I could win four medals in one world championships,” Shiffrin said on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA. “There’s not a lot of things left to accomplish on paper, but I still feel motivated to ski faster and, especially on days like today, when I see the level of skiing that’s possible … I want to go training tomorrow. Let’s keep pushing.”

In 2020, Shiffrin went 300 days between races after her father’s death last February. Coach Mike Day told NBC Sports analyst Steve Porino that he’s seen more healing over the last two weeks than over the prior months.

“Some days you feel like it’s good, I’m healed, I’m better now,” Shiffrin said. “And then the next day, it hits you like a train. What I’ve heard is that it’s like this for the rest of your life. ... These two weeks have been a big step in my ability to focus and control my emotions during the day and still fight.

“I’m feeling pretty grateful to be able to smile a lot more often. Every day, I feel a little bit more excited for the next day to come.”

Shiffrin is the best slalom skier in history with 44 World Cup wins, but was overtaken on the World Cup in the last 13 months by Vlhova.

Liensberger, too, has been ascending. She owns eight World Cup podiums, including in every slalom this season, though no victories on the circuit.

“It was so often so near and so close,” Liensberger said. “In the race it felt like flying a little bit, just getting faster with every gate.”

Liensberger was 1.30 seconds faster than Shiffrin in Saturday’s first run, the American’s largest deficit in any slalom since Jan. 10, 2017.

“I was quite disappointed,” of the first run, Shiffrin said. “It’s not really any big mistakes, just slower every turn.”

Liensberger hadn’t won a race on the top level until Tuesday’s parallel giant slalom, when she was originally ruled the silver medalist despite finishing in a tie with Italian Marta Bassino.

She was upgraded to shared gold upon closer inspection of the rules, taking out the tiebreaker in the event that’s not on the Olympic program.

Worlds finish Sunday with the men’s slalom, where Austrian Marco Schwarz is the favorite. Austria last swept the men’s and women’s slalom world titles in 1936.

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