Mikaela Shiffrin returning to World Cup circuit despite uncertainty over coronavirus
Status of World Cup finals in Italy are still up in the air
Mikaela Shiffrin took to Instagram video Thursday to announce she is returning to the World Cup circuit in Europe after a month-long absence following the death of her father. Shiffrin’s return to racing comes amid uncertainty over the remaining race schedule due to the spread of coronavirus in Europe.
Shiffrin said she is flying to Scandinavia on Thursday. Three races are scheduled — a parallel slalom, giant slalom, and slalom — one week later in Are, Sweden.
“I have no promises if I’ll actually be able to race,” Shiffrin said in a six-minute video message that addressed the emotions about her father, Jeff, who died on Feb. 2.
“There is no doubt that we are broken,” she said of her family’s grief. “Accepting this new ‘reality’ is going to take a long time, and maybe we never truly will, maybe we don’t have to.”
Shiffrin said she had trained a little but with difficulty.
“It has been a slow process, I have struggled with being able to maintain my focus,” said the two-time Olympic gold medalist and three-time defending overall World Cup champion. “But it has been therapeutic to be on the mountain. I’ve found training to be a place where I can feel closer to my dad, yet it provides enough of a distraction so that feeling of ‘closeness’ can be separated from the pain.”
During her absence, Shiffrin has lost her lead in the overall standings to Federica Brignone. In her specialist slalom discipline, Petra Vlhova now has a small lead.
Seven points-scoring events are left on the schedule in Sweden and Italy. However, the World Cup Finals races in Cortina d’Ampezzo are threatened by the virus outbreak in northern Italy.
The International Ski Federation plans an update Friday on the Cortina races, which could be canceled or held without fans at the venue.
Shiffrin last raced on Jan. 26 when she won a super-G in Bansko, Bulgaria. The next weekend she returned to her family home in Vail to be with her father at the hospital.
In the video, Shiffrin read one of her father’s favorite poems, thanked the many well-wishers who have sent messages of support, and asked that her family’s privacy continues to be respected.
“Over the last few weeks, my family and I have received an overwhelming amount of support and love,” she said.
This weekend’s women’s events in Ofterschwang, Germany had already been scrubbed because of a lack of snow.
Her prodigious ski-racing career took understandably took a backseat to her family after her father, Jeff, unexpectedly died at the beginning of February.
While keeping an eye on the big picture that Shiffrin suffered an enormous personal loss recently, and that the entire Eagle County community mourns with her, she has had a successful, while simultaneously challenging campaign in 2019-20.
The thought that Shiffrin could match or even come close to the success of her record-setting 2018-19 year was ludicrous and unattainable. There’s a reason everyone was agog after she set a record with 17 World Cup wins (Switzerland’s Vreni Schneider won 14 in 1988-89) while winning her third consecutive World Cup championship, as well as globes in slalom (her sixth in seven seasons), giant slalom (her first) and super-G (a rather unexpected championship).
Shiffrin scored 2,204 points on the World Cup. That’s second all-time — men or women — only to Slovenia’s Tina Maze’s blockbuster 2012-13 season (2,414). Adding in the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in Are, where she won slalom and super-G and took bronze in GS, in February 2019, Shiffrin won 19 of her 29 starts, a wonderfully absurd percentage —65.5.
While stipulating that Shiffrin in a generational athletic treasure, a lot of things had to go right for her to accomplish as much as she did in 2018-19. The super-G globe from that year is a perfect example.
Shiffrin skied brilliantly in the discipline winning three times and finishing fourth at the World Cup finals. (Victories at worlds do not count toward World Cup points.)
She also got a break or two along the way. She took off two weeks from speed events in February 2019 and both of those stops were canceled due to weather. The rest of the field lost two chances to gain on an idle Shiffrin in super-G. Shiffrin beat Austria’s Nicole Schmidhofer by 47 points (or just about half a race) for the title.
Because Shiffrin did not win in 2019-20 at the Herculean pace that she did in 2018-19, uneducated observers were wondering what was “wrong” with her.
“All I can say is- this season/this sport (my career)/this life is a marathon, not a sprint,” she tweeted, lending the proper perspective, in January.
Speaking of perspective, it’s not like Shiffrin fell off the face of the earth by not maintaining her 2018-19 pace. She has won six times on tour this season, edging out rivals Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova and Italy’s Federica Brignone (five each) for most wins on the tour this winter.
Shiffrin still had days where she absolutely dominated — she won slaloms in Levi, Finland, by 1.79-seconds and in Killington, Vermont, by a whopping 2.29 seconds. Shiffrin topped the podium on back-to-back days in Lienz, Austria, in GS and slalom during December.
Keep in mind that she also managed to win in all four of the traditional disciplines in one season with downhill and super-G victories in Bansko, Bulgaria, at the end of January.
At the same time, there was bad luck, bad breaks and frustration. On Jan. 18 in Sestriere, Italy. Shiffrin finished 1-hundredth of a second off the pace in a GS. She finished third as Brignone and Vlhova tied for the win.
The next day, Shiffrin was the victim of a bad course set in parallel slalom, finishing ninth. Shiffrin was tactful as always, but when one course set produces 17 winners and the other three in 20 head-to-head matches, something’s wrong.
Some days, Shiffrin just wasn’t in the groove, as was the case when she finished 17th in a GS in Courchevel, France, in December.
Nonetheless, many ski racers would give vital organs for an “off year” like this.
This story includes reporting from The Associated Press