Shiffrin eyes American record 3rd straight WCup slalom win
FLACHAU, Austria — In the final slalom before her home world championship, Mikaela Shiffrin can become the first American skier to rack up three straight World Cup wins in the discipline.
Shiffrin, from Vail, Colorado, has won the night race in Austria the past two years, and starts as a clear favorite again Tuesday after dominating the recent events in Kuehtai and Zagreb.
The 19-year-old Olympic champion posted the fastest time in all four runs of those events to shrug off a two-month period of equipment troubles and poor results.
She seems to be turning things around at the right time, while also dealing with personnel changes around her.
Tuesday’s race is Shiffrin’s second without her long-term coach Roland Pfeifer, who has been removed from the women’s technical team.
According to the Alpine director of the U.S. ski team, Patrick Riml, the coach had been focusing too much on his most successful athlete.
“We have more athletes on the technical team, and they also belong to the team,” Riml said. “It’s important to have a good atmosphere in the team, that they all work together and with each other.”
For the past 3 ½ years, Pfeifer had been instrumental to Shiffrin’s rise to the top.
The 50-year-old Austrian, a former professional skier who specialized in slalom and giant slalom, led the team since 2011, the same year Shiffrin made her debut on the World Cup.
Under Pfeifer’s guidance, Shiffrin won two crystal globes for the most successful slalom skier of the World Cup season, the world title, and Olympic gold.
“Roland has done a great job,” Riml said. “He will switch to the men’s side. He is a top coach.”
Still, Riml said it was better for everyone involved to separate Pfeifer and Shiffrin, even if the timing has not been ideal, with the world championship slalom and GS less than four weeks away.
“Only if all the girls on the team are happy and the coaches are cooperating well, results will come,” said Riml, who hasn’t replaced Pfeifer but will be travelling himself with the women’s team for the rest of the season.
Riml said he will also try to intensify the cooperation between the technical and the speed team.
That could help Shiffrin, who wants to start competing in super-G’s in the near future and, eventually, downhill races.
And Shiffrin can still work with her own small group of people, most notably her mother Eileen.
“Eileen is part of the team, no doubt,” Riml said. “Eileen has been there since day one and she is still there. She is very important to Mikaela, she is a pillar to the whole system.”
Shiffrin also emphasized how important harmony in the team is to her.
“I learned a lot about the people around me,” she said. “And how my entire team handles the stress of not winning, or not reaching my potential, it puts stress on really everybody. Whether they say that or not, I know it’s there and I felt a lot of pressure in November. It got to me a little bit.”
After her two recent wins, Shiffrin is now eager to make it three in a row before defending her world slalom title on Feb. 14.
“I can’t wait,” she said. “I love it that we’re going to have so much time to train, to prepare. And some time to rest and energize and then go out and hammer some training. By the time we race, anything can happen. That makes it very exciting for everybody.”