Daunt­ing down­hill de­but

Af­ter an­other racer’s crash, Shiffrin gets scare and fin­ishes 18th in un­fa­mil­iar dis­ci­pline.

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

lake louise, al­berta» If Mikaela Shiffrin needed a re­minder of the dan­gers as­so­ci­ated with down­hill be­fore her World Cup de­but in the event Fri­day, she got a vivid one al­most lit­er­ally at the last minute.

It hap­pened when the woman rac­ing right be­fore her, Joana Haehlen of Switzer­land, lost her bal­ance at high speed and crashed hard into the safety net­ting, caus­ing a 10-minute course hold. For a while, Haehlen didn’t move, and res­cue crews fired up a he­li­copter at the bot­tom of the hill in case she needed evac­u­a­tion to an emer­gency room.

She didn’t — Haehlen even­tu­ally skied off the hill un­der her own power — but the in­ci­dent re­in­forced the se­ri­ous risks of rac­ing at nearly 80 mph, es­pe­cially on a day com­pli­cated by over­cast skies, snow flur­ries and flat light. For a few mo­ments, Shiffrin, the world’s best slalom skier from Avon, thought twice about what she was about to do, even though she had trained on the course the pre­vi­ous three days.

“That was just a bum­mer,” Shiffrin said af­ter fin­ish­ing a re­spectable 18th. “I was like, ‘Just don’t let it af­fect you,’ but be­ing up there for 10 min­utes, like, ‘What hap­pened? What’s tak­ing them so long? What’s go­ing on? Is she hurt?’

“Then I started doubt­ing my­self, like my tech­nique go­ing off the jumps, which is ac­tu­ally pretty good. I was go­ing back and forth be­tween, ‘Should I even be do­ing this? Maybe I just should pull out be­cause I don’t want to kill my­self.’ Then I’m like, ‘You’re ab­so­lutely fine, you haven’t felt sketched out a sin­gle time on this track in the past three days, so stick with that. You don’t have to go crazy.’ ”

Shiffrin fin­ished 1.99 sec­onds be­hind the win­ner, Ilka Stuhec of Slove­nia. Although she felt fear in the start house, it left her when she got on course.

“I felt ab­so­lutely fine, like to­tally within my com­fort zone,” said Shiffrin, 21. “Each time I ski, I kind of push my com­fort zone and it gets a lit­tle bit higher. I’m just try­ing to keep push­ing that limit without over­do­ing it.”

Shiffrin’s run ap­peared smooth, if maybe a bit ten­ta­tive a time or two. She lacks the ex­pe­ri­ence in down­hill to eval­u­ate a run by how it felt.

“I get frus­trated when I’m like, ‘OK, how was my run?’ and I don’t know un­til I watch the video,” Shiffrin said. “That’s lack of ex­pe­ri­ence with down­hill. I have to work through my run in my head, see the video, and then think, ‘Where did I lose time, where can I be bet­ter?’ Most of the lost time in down­hill is line and clean ski­ing and re­leas­ing your ski.”

Shiffrin’s mother, Eileen, thought Mikaela did fine given the emo­tional im­pact of the course hold so soon be­fore she raced.

“That’s hard in any event, let alone a speed event,” said Eileen, who as­sists U.S. Ski Team staff in coach­ing Mikaela. “I thought she gath­ered her­self to­gether and did the best she could. I think she has more in her than that, but for the cir­cum­stances she did great.”

Down­hill vet­eran Stacey Cook, a three­time Olympian from Truc­kee, Calif., was the top Amer­i­can in sixth place. Alice McKen­nis of Glen­wood Springs missed a gate and did not fin­ish. Two more races will be held here — a down­hill Satur­day and su­per-G on Sun­day — be­fore the tour leaves for Europe.

Colorado’s Mikaela Shiffrin goes into a tuck dur­ing the first women’s World Cup down­hill of her ca­reer Fri­day at Lake Louise, Al­berta. She fin­ished 18th, nearly two sec­onds be­hind win­ner Ilka Stuhec of Slove­nia. Jonathan Hay­ward, The Cana­dian Press

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