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Hirscher leads after 1st run of World Cup slalom

LEVI, Finland (AP) — Double overall World Cup skiing champion Marcel Hirscher took the lead in the World Cup slalom opener Sunday ahead of Felix Neureuther of Germany.

The 24-year-old Austrian skied flawlessly at the top of the hill and overcame a minor mistake toward the end of the course to clock 52.80 seconds in the first run. Neureuther was 0.22 seconds behind and Austria's Mario Matt was third, 0.31 back.

Hirscher dominated the slalom competitions last season, finishing all nine World Cup slaloms on the podium and won the slalom world title as well as his second overall title. His strong display here suggests he remains in top form ahead of the Olympics in Sochi.

"He's such a good skier and it's always so challenging to ski versus him. You just have to ski perfect to beat him," Neureuther said of Hirscher after the first run above the Arctic Circle in Levi, Finland.

Neureuther, who struggled with an ankle injury earlier this year, said he feels good. "I don't have pain, so that's the most important thing for me and that I can ski fast," he said. "I had a pretty solid first run and that felt all right, but I have to push harder in the second run."

American Ted Ligety, who won the Giant Slalom opening race in Soelden last month, was 24th after the first run, 1.37 seconds behind Hirscher. "Skiing wise I'm skiing better but that first run was not a good run," he said. "Sometimes things don't necessarily click as easily as they should, so hopefully in the next run I can ski better."

Last year's winner in Levi, Olympic bronze medalist Andre Myhrer of Sweden, committed a major mistake at the end of the track and didn't qualify for the second run.

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