Olympic champion Hector beats Shiffrin in eventful GS in Slovakia. Vlhova out for season with injury

Slovakia Alpine Skiing World Cup
United States’ Mikaela Shiffrin, left, second-placed in an alpine ski, women’s World Cup giant slalom race, smiles next to winner Sweden’s Sara Hector, in Jasna, Slovakia, Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024. (AP Photo/Giovanni Maria Pizzato)

JASNA, Slovakia (AP) — In a race overshadowed by a season-ending knee injury for home favorite Petra Vlhova following a crash, Olympic champion Sara Hector dominated an eventful women’s World Cup giant slalom Saturday for her first win in nearly two years.

Hector posted the fastest time in both runs as she led American star Mikaela Shiffrin by 1.52 seconds. New Zealand’s Alice Robinson trailed by 2.71 in third.

It was the biggest winning margin in a women's GS in 20 years, since Swedish great Anja Paerson beat runner-up Tina Maze of Slovenia by 1.98 at a race in Germany.

Racing in front of 10,000 fans near her hometown in the Tatra mountains, Vlhova fell and slid into the safety netting early in her first run and was taken off the hill on a sled.

Her team said that Vlhova, who is Shiffrin's main competitor in slalom, tore ligaments in her right knee.

In her typical all-or-nothing style, Hector sped down the course in two near-flawless runs.

“It’s so amazing. Snow was perfect, amazing race. This morning I was nervous, I had a lot of thinking lately but today was just crazy," said the Swede, who earned her fifth career World Cup win but first since triumphing in a GS in Italy two years ago, which was her last race before winning Olympic gold in Beijing.

Hector carried a lead of one second over Shiffrin into her final run and extended that advantage at almost every checkpoint.

In a finish area interview right after the race, Hector addressed the many Slovakian fans.

“That’s amazing that they stayed. I feel so bad for Petra, but you are a great crowd,” Hector said.

Shiffrin was full of praise for the winner, calling her “untouchable today.”

“It was just fun to watch her skiing. You have to take a step back and say, 'Wow, that's just nice to look at,'” said the American, who added “(I) skied the best I could possible ski on this hill.”

The slippery ice surface in combination with an unusually turning set of the gates on the Lukova 2 course caused problems in the opening run for many racers.

Federica Brignone, who led the GS standings coming, opened the race but slipped and fell after the fourth gate. The Italian skier was unhurt.

Lara Gut-Behrami finished the race 4.49 behind in sixth and went to the top of the discipline standings, 25 points clear of Brignone. Shiffrin is third, 56 points behind the Swiss leader.

Before the race, Vlhova and Brignone were ranked second and third, respectively, in the overall standings, led by Shiffrin. The American is aiming to match the women's record of six overall World Cup titles.

“I think that with this kind of surface, you have to feel 100 percent confident,” said Shiffrin, adding that even a small mistake “takes so much time away.”

Shiffrin called the course set in the first run “very turning” and acknowledged Hector's near-flawless run.

“She did obviously a spectacular job the first run. I felt very good,” Shiffrin said.

The margins in the final standings were remarkable, as Croatian skier Zrinka Ljutic finished fourth with a huge deficit of 4.33 seconds. And finishing a massive seven seconds off the lead was still good enough for a top-20 result.

A slalom on Sunday wraps up the race weekend in Slovakia.