Shiffrin’s chal­lenge

Skier try­ing to add down­hill and su­per-G with­out let­ting her slalom and gi­ant slalom su≠er

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

For the past four sea­sons Mikaela Shiffrin daz­zled the alpine world with her dom­i­nance in slalom and the in­no­cent ex­u­ber­ance of her per­son­al­ity, but this sea­son she seems poised to be­come an even big­ger star on the slopes of Europe’s great ski re­sorts. If she re­mains healthy and pro­gresses as she hopes, she will emerge as one of the con­tenders for a prize even more pres­ti­gious than Olympic medals: the World Cup over­all ti­tle.

In pre­vi­ous sea­sons the Vail Val­ley skier fo­cused on slalom and gi­ant slalom, hav­ing raced only twice in “speed races,” a pair of su­per-Gs last sea­son. This sea­son she is ex­pected to race reg­u­larly in su­per-G and down­hill as well. If she does well it could put her in the fight for the over­all this sea­son — es­pe­cially since two of the three ac­tive rac­ers who are past win­ners — Lind­sey Vonn and Anna Veith (for­merly Fen­ninger) are miss­ing the start of the sea­son with in­juries.

“It’s amaz­ing, she’s 21, Olympic cham­pion, world cham­pion,” said for­mer World Cup star Alexan­dra Meiss­nitzer of Aus­tria. “What I es­pe­cially like is the way she skis. The tech­nique is to­tally per­fect. It’s so pre­cise. And now, it’s cool that she is do­ing the speed events, too. You in the U.S., you have Lind­sey and now you get Mika, who can also break record af­ter record.”

There are mas­sive stamina chal­lenges associated with Shiffrin’s move into the speed events. When she was only rac­ing slalom and gi­ant slalom, she es­sen­tially raced half of the World Cup sched­ule, al­low­ing her to rest and train on the week­ends when the speed skiers were rac­ing.

“It’s a lo­gis­ti­cal night­mare, try­ing to do all of the events,” said Shiffrin’s mother, Eileen, who as­sists U.S. Ski Team staff in coach­ing her. “And we’re new to it.”

Shiffrin won’t nec­es­sar­ily com­pete in all 37 World Cup races. Some speed event weeks, she might only race su­per-G, and she might skip a speed week here or there to rest or train in GS and slalom so she doesn’t lose her sharp­ness in those events. But what­ever way it plays out, she will have a huge ex­pan­sion of her pro­gram.

“I’m tired of think­ing about how tired we’re go­ing to be,” Shiffrin said. “It’s not like no­body’s ever done it be­fore. But it’s new for me, and it’s like you have to re­cal­i­brate ev­ery time you try to reach a new mile­stone. You have to fig­ure out how much en­ergy you have to spend on ev­ery lit­tle thing. I’ve al­ways been one to put ev­ery ounce of en­ergy into ev­ery sin­gle day. (Now) I have to run at 70 per­cent for a lit­tle bit — still putting 100 per­cent of ef­fort into the races but not putting 100 per­cent of my emo­tional, phys­i­cal, men­tal en­ergy into ev­ery­thing.”

Shiffrin won three World Cup slalom ti­tles since 2013, win­ning world cham­pi­onships gold medals in 2013 and 2015 and Olympic gold in 2014. She fell short last sea­son be­cause a knee in­jury cost her two months of rac­ing. In ad­di­tion to pick­ing up points in the speed events this sea­son, she wants to chal­lenge for the podium in GS more of­ten. She has 21 slalom vic­to­ries and 26 podi­ums ver­sus one win and six podi­ums in GS.

“If I’m go­ing to do this, I want to do it as well as I can, and I know that I can ski fast in speed,” Shiffrin said. “I know I can win GS races and win the GS (sea­son ti­tle). I like that chal­lenge. When I was a lit­tle girl, I wanted to be the best skier in the world, not specif­i­cally the best slalom skier in the world.”

The trick will be to de­velop as a speed skier with­out let­ting her slalom and gi­ant slalom suf­fer.

“I’m op­ti­mistic, but I can feel the girls breath­ing down my neck in slalom,” Shiffrin said. “I feel like my ski­ing is good enough to win, but I also feel I can use more con­sis­tency, so we’re try­ing to fit in as much train­ing as pos­si­ble with­out sac­ri­fic­ing the speed races. It’s like, ‘What can I get out of the GS with­out be­ing too greedy in one par­tic­u­lar area and man­ag­ing the en­ergy?”

It helps that one of her coaches loves her the way only a mother can.

“She goes through all of the emo­tional stress that I go through, be­cause she’s my mom and I feel like she’s bi­o­log­i­cally re­quired to feel ev­ery­thing that I’m feel­ing,” Shiffrin said. “She also feels her own emo­tions. Some­times it’s like the um­bil­i­cal cord is still at­tached.”

Bet­ter than any­one else, her mother knows what to say and when to say it. But she’s only hu­man.

“Usu­ally if I have to say some­thing to Mikaela that I know she needs to hear, and I’m mulling it in my head and wait­ing, even­tu­ally I’ll say it and I’ll try to pick a time,” Eileen said. “But maybe some things are bet­ter left un­said, and I say them when I shouldn’t. Usu­ally what hap­pens is that if I say it, Mikaela thinks about it, and even if she gets mad at first, she of­ten­times will think about it and come back and say, ‘Yeah, I know I have to do that.’ I’m def­i­nitely not al­ways right, and some­times I’m a lit­tle bit over­re­ac­tionary.”

But Shiffrin is for­tu­nate to have her mother as she em­braces the stresses that come with be­ing a four-event racer. It’s a huge chal­lenge, but she’s up for it.

“I’m hop­ing that no mat­ter how hard any­body else works, as long as I work harder, I’m still go­ing to come out on top,” Shiffrin said. “I see a lot of re­ally com­pla­cent ath­letes, and I’m re­ally wor­ried that I’m go­ing to get com­pla­cent, that the more I win the more com­pla­cent I’ll be, and the more I’ll fight back when my mom tells me, ‘Get back on track.’ My big­gest fear is that some day I’m just go­ing to stop try­ing hard. That’s one thing I re­ally ad­mire Lind­sey for. No mat­ter what she does, no mat­ter how many di­rec­tions she is go­ing in, she has not stopped work­ing hard.”

Charles Krupa, The Associated Press

Mikaela Shiffrin re­acts af­ter win­ning the women’s World Cup slalom in Killing­ton, Vt., last Sun­day.

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