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Hirscher wins World Cup slalom opener

LEVI, Finland (AP) — Double overall World Cup skiing champion Marcel Hirscher continued to dominate the slalom Sunday, winning the World Cup opener ahead of countryman Mario Matt.

The 24-year-old Austrian skied seamlessly throughout the second run to clock an overall time of 1 minute, 45.42 seconds, securing his 10th consecutive spot on the podium in the discipline. Two-time world champion Mario Matt climbed from third place after the first run to second, 0.62 seconds behind Hirscher and Norwegian 19-year-old Henrik Kristoffersen clinched his first podium place, finishing third, 0.93 seconds back.

German Felix Neureuther, who was second after the first run, had an acrobatic fall on his second run but continued to ski and ended up 27th. Hirscher dominated the slalom World Cup last season, 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 said he was especially happy to win in Levi, a course that he has struggled on in the past, but tried to play down the huge expectations on him. "I'm happy right now to be here, to have a podium, to have a victory," he said. "To stand for the 10th time in a row on the podium ... is a really amazing thing but once for sure this row will come to an end, every row comes to an end."

In a first for this year, organizers presented the winners with a live reindeer from the local Lapland region. American teenager Mikaela Shiffrin, who won the women's race Saturday, named her reindeer Rudolf, and Hirscher said he would call his Ferdinand.

American Ted Ligety, who won the Giant Slalom opening race in Soelden last month, improved from a slow first run, ending 11th, 1.96 seconds behind Hirscher. Ligety, who put a lot of focus on slalom in preseason training in an attempt to take a shot at an overall World Cup title, said he needs to improve if that strategy is to play out.

"I feel like in the second run I skied a little bit more like I should be skiing," he said. "But still far from being what I really need to do in slalom. "I need to be scoring in the top five to top three, so I need to up it in this if that's going to be a meaningful route to getting me enough points," he added.

Matt, 34, said he was happy to be back on the podium. "I have felt really good in the last weeks and months," he said. "I'm really happy about the result, it was perfect." Kristoffersen said he was emotional to be on the podium for the first time and that the Norwegian team has worked hard together to improve its level of skiing.

"It's a big step in the right direction," he said. "This is a great day, but I still have a long way to go." Meanwhile, 33-year-old veteran Ivica Kostelic of Croatia showed he was still in the game, finishing fourth.

French 22-year-old Alexis Pinturault, who was sixth overall last season with three victories in three different disciplines and second after Ligety in the Giant Slalom opener in Soelden, skied out on his second run. His teammate, Julien Lizeroux, who hasn't competed since 2011 due to a knee injury, put in a solid performance, finishing in 17th place.

Last year's winner in Levi, Olympic bronze medalist Andre Myhrer of Sweden, committed a major mistake at the end of the track in the first run and didn't qualify for the second run. His countryman, Mattias Hargin finished 5th.

The next event on the World Cup circuit is in Beaver Creek, Colo. on Nov. 26.

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