Shiffrin em­braces next stage, with Fed­erer as her guide

The State (Sunday) - - Sports - BY BILL PEN­NING­TON

Mikaela Shiffrin made her de­but on the pro­fes­sional World Cup ski rac­ing tour in 2011 when she was 15. Two years later, she was the first Amer­i­can to win two World Cup races be­fore she was 18. A year af­ter that, she was the youngest Olympic slalom cham­pion in his­tory.

Times have changed. Be­fore a re­cent race, Shiffrin was look­ing at the list of com­peti­tors when she re­al­ized – gasp! – she was older than nearly half the field.

“I’ve been used to be­ing the baby,” said Shiffrin, 23. “But now I hear the birth year of some girls and I swear it sounds like ‘2017,’ and I’m like, ‘Wait, what?’ ”

A teenage phe­nom­e­non no longer, Shiffrin is an adult with all the trap­pings of the modern pro ath­lete: a gag­gle of spon­sors and a brand to cul­ti­vate, pub­lic ap­pear­ances and me­dia obli­ga­tions, and yes, an am­bi­tious throng of upand-com­ers nip­ping at the heels of per­haps the most pre­co­cious tal­ent in her sport’s his­tory. It’s no won­der she spent part of her off­sea­son shad­ow­ing Roger Fed­erer.

“I’ve been think­ing: Oh, man, this is what it felt like for ev­ery­body else when I was com­ing up the ranks,” Shiffrin said as she sat in a Colorado condo af­ter a train­ing ses­sion this month.

But Shiffrin, a three­time Olympic medal­ist and the two-time de­fend­ing women’s World Cup over­all cham­pion, is not overly vexed by her vet­eran sta­tus.

“Ev­ery­body goes through it – time keeps mov­ing on,” she said. “We get older and hope­fully more ma­ture.”

More­over, when asked Kevin Mclen­don, Night Edi­tor (803) 771-8337 or km­clen­[email protected]­tate.com

The State: Win­ner of the APSE "Triple Crown" for out­stand­ing daily, dig­i­tal and spe­cial sec­tion sports cov­er­age if she felt her ca­reer was en­ter­ing a new stage, she an­swered with­out the slight­est hes­i­ta­tion: “I feel like I’m con­stantly en­ter­ing a dif­fer­ent stage.”

That may be the most apt de­scrip­tion of Shiffrin’s in­can­des­cent ca­reer.

Shiffrin’s charge through the ski rac­ing record books – she is on a pace to shat­ter a host of World Cup and Olympic records – could con­tinue this week­end with two World Cup races at the Killing­ton ski re­sort in Ver­mont. Shiffrin has be­come the pied piper and the main at­trac­tion of the event, which re­turned to Ver­mont for the first time in nearly 40 years in 2016.

Since then, the Killing­ton races have drawn some of the big­gest crowds on the women’s cir­cuit, a tour pri­mar­ily based in Europe.

Shiffrin has con­tin­ued to rep­re­sent the new guard of ski rac­ing in the United States, es­pe­cially with Lind­sey Vonn re­tir­ing af­ter this sea­son. Vonn in­jured her knee in train­ing Mon­day, which will de­lay her de­but on this year’s World Cup cir­cuit.

Shiffrin is care­ful not to be seen as nudg­ing Vonn out of the way when Vonn is only four vic­to­ries from ty­ing the record for most ca­reer World Cup wins (86), set in 1989 by Inge­mar Sten­mark of Swe­den.

Maybe the best way to de­pict what’s dif­fer­ent with Shiffrin now is to con­sider how she spent her off­sea­son. She used to look for­ward to sev­eral weeks of sum­mer at home in her par­ents’ Colorado home, where she would catch up on episodes of fa­vorite tele­vi­sion shows, like “Madam Sec­re­tary” or “Blue Bloods.”

This year, Shiffrin went on a Caribbean va­ca­tion with her boyfriend, French ski racer Math­ieu Faivre; was a pre­sen­ter at the ESPY Awards; at­tended a fes­ti­val in Cannes; and, prov­i­dently, came in reg­u­lar con­tact with Fed­erer, who, like Shiffrin, is spon­sored by pasta maker Bar­illa.

At func­tions with Fed­erer, Shiffrin found her­self as­sid­u­ously study­ing how the tennis star be­haved and in­ter­acted with the pub­lic.

“He was en­gaged with ev­ery per­son he was talk­ing to – it wasn’t like he was just look­ing at his phone and not them,” she said. “I don’t even think he had his phone with him. I watched how he con­ducted him­self around peo­ple in gen­eral or with the me­dia. It was eye­open­ing to see how fully he gave of him­self.

“It was an im­por­tant thing for me to learn at this point in my ca­reer.”

Com­port­ment is in­creas­ingly im­per­a­tive to Shiffrin be­cause her many ac­com­plish­ments have led to a plethora of valu­able part­ner­ships with cor­po­rate spon­sors, who ex­pect cer­tain stan­dards, and not just those achieved on a ski slope.

“I of­ten think of my­self as a lit­eral in­vest­ment,” she said. “It sounds se­ri­ous, like kind of de­hu­man­iz­ing, but I’m con­scious of the brand. I think there are some ath­letes who don’t think about that enough.

“I’m a hu­man and a per­son, and a ski racer. But I have spon­sors who in­vest in me hop­ing that I’m go­ing to stay the course and have suc­cess.”

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