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BEAVER CREEK, Colorado (Reuters) - Mikaela Shiffrin soaked up the pressure and defended her alpine ski world championship slalom crown in thrilling style on Saturday to give the United States a golden finish to the women's competition.
First after the opening leg, American darling Shiffrin trailed midway through her second trip down the Golden Eagle track before turning on the after-burners and blazing across the finish line in a combined time of one minute, 38.48 seconds.
Thunderous roars echoed across the sun-kissed slopes of Beaver Creek Mountain and U.S. flags waved from the packed grandstand as the 19-year-old added a second world title to her Olympic crown in the slalom.
"It was a really big day and tough competition, especially that second run," an emotional Shiffrin told reporters after becoming the third woman, after Christel Cranz (1938, 1939) and Janica Kostelic (2003, 2005), to retain the slalom world title.
"It was a little bit faster, the course, and everybody wanted it. I'm really happy to come out on top but I really had to pull it out at the very end.
"It's always a relief to come down and know I did a good job," said Shiffrin, who showed no sign of celebration after crossing the line.
"It's just putting all my energy out on the course, I don't have energy to celebrate."
Sweden's Frida Hansdotter, whose afternoon run was 0.06 seconds faster than Shiffrin's, claimed silver, 0.34 seconds back, with Czech Sarka Strachova, who had surgery for a brain tumor in 2012, taking the bronze.
"I have had an amazing season and to be able to take the silver, I am super happy," said Hansdotter, who has finished on the podium in four of six races to lead the slalom World Cup standings. "Mikaela was hard to beat today."
After a slow start to the championships that produced just one silver and two bronzes, the U.S. ski team saved their best for last with Shiffrin landing the second American gold in as many days. Her win followed Ted Ligety's victory on Friday in the giant slalom.
For just the second time in 10 events Austria failed to land a skier on the podium, Kathrin Zettel recording the top result in the women's slalom by crossing fifth.
After taking medals in the opening three disciplines, Slovenia's World Cup leader Tina Maze was kept off the podium for a second consecutive race, finishing eighth.
Editing by Gene Cherry