Ea­gleVail’s Mikaela Shiffrin to make her down­hill de­but at Lake Louise on Fri­day.

Vail Val­ley racer to ski new dis­ci­pline Fri­day

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By John Meyer John Meyer: jmeyer@den­ver­post.com or @john­meyer

lake louise, al­berta» There are rea­sons this an­nual World Cup venue sur­rounded by mas­sive peaks in the grandeur of the Cana­dian Rock­ies is some­times nick­named Lake Lindsey. Since 2004, 18 of Lindsey Vonn’s 76 World Cup vic­to­ries have come here, and on three oc­ca­sions she swept the week­end’s three races.

Her quest to break Inge­mar Sten­mark’s record of 86 World Cup wins will not ad­vance this time, though. Vonn broke her right arm train­ing two weeks ago at Cop­per Moun­tain, and while she is ex­pected to re­turn some­time this sea­son, her in­for­ma­tion han­dlers aren’t of­fer­ing any clues when that might be. Her ab­sence is felt here. “It’s kind of, not bor­ing, but she’s im­por­tant for us, for the show,” said for­mer Aus­trian World Cup great Alexan­dra Meiss­nitzer, who is here work­ing for Aus­trian TV. “She’s just a big star in our show, and when she’s not here, a big part is miss­ing. Ev­ery­thing in Lake Louise is about Lindsey Vonn.”

There is an­other Vail Val­ley racer who could pick up some of the slack in terms of star power, though. Mikaela Shiffrin, who has dom­i­nated women’s slalom the past four sea­sons while fo­cus­ing on that event and gi­ant slalom, will make her World Cup de­but in down­hill Fri­day.

“It’s ac­tu­ally the first time I’ve skied a ful­l­length down­hill,” Shiffrin said af­ter a train­ing run this week. “It’s a very dif­fer­ent feel­ing, get­ting to the bot­tom of the track and be­ing like, ‘My legs are tired but I still have to let it run and be on top of it.’ It’s re­ally fun, it’s a re­ally nice track and I feel like I have it down in my head. It’s just about, when the speed’s com­ing at me, nail­ing that line and mak­ing sure I’m on top of it.”

Down­hill is the most ex­cit­ing and dan­ger­ous of the alpine dis­ci­plines. Av­er­age speeds ex­ceeded 60 mph in train­ing runs here this week and top speeds were nearly 80 mph. Shiffrin is a bril­liant tech­ni­cal skier, the envy of the World Cup for her form, but down­hill re­quires other skills as well. It also re­quires a lot more course fa­mil­iar­ity to suc­ceed than slalom and gi­ant slalom. Shiffrin is rac­ing against women who know ev­ery inch of this course that she is just learn­ing how to nav­i­gate.

“The big­gest is­sue for me is, when the speeds re­ally pick up, tim­ing the turns,” Shiffrin said. “I know how to turn, but it’s about tim­ing that and be­ing smooth with the turns. That comes with ex­pe­ri­ence, know­ing the tracks and ski­ing a lot on your speed skis.”

No­body ex­pects her to win here this year as she learns the new dis­ci­pline, but she gave a hint of her po­ten­tial here last year when she made her su­per-G de­but and fin­ished 15th. Su­per-G is the other “speed event” in alpine rac­ing with more turns than down­hill and top speeds ap­proach­ing 70 mph.

Adding the speed events to her reper­toire is the next step in Shiffrin’s de­vel­op­ment. Af­ter she ac­quires com­pe­tence in speed events to com­ple­ment her ex­cel­lence in the tech­ni­cal events, she is ex­pected to be­come a con­tender for the World Cup over­all ti­tle. She cur­rently leads the World Cup over­all stand­ings af­ter two slaloms (both of which she won) and two gi­ant slalom races (sec­ond and fifth).

“Right now I’m re­ally try­ing not to think about re­sults,” Shiffrin said. “I’m only think­ing about the track. There’s so many parts of this track, all these girls know it and I have no idea what’s com­ing at me. I’m just try­ing to mem­o­rize ev­ery sin­gle sec­tion and ski it the best I can.”

Mikaela Shiffrin trains for the World Cup women’s down­hill at Lake Louise, Al­berta, on Wed­nes­day. The down­hill is a new dis­ci­pline for Shiffrin. Christophe Pal­lot, Getty Im­ages

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