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