Mikaela Shiffrin unbeatable on Semmering slalom course
Special to the Daily
SEMMERING, Austria — Mikaela Shiffrin insists that she doesn’t concern herself with the pursuit of records, however she has no problem breaking them.
The 23-year-old Eagle-Vail ski racing sensation broke several more on Saturday at the Austrian resort of Semmering. She was unbelievable and unbeatable, comfortably winning a slalom by 0.29 seconds ahead of Slovakian Petra Vlhova.
Shiffrin eclipsed Austrian Marlies Schild World Cup slalom record of 35 victories, with her 36th career win. The American skiing star has been the mark of consistency in ski racing’s most technical of events, a discipline where gate straddles and DNFs are commonplace.
“I know the Schild number,” Shiffrin said, when asked if she was aware of all the records that she broke on Saturday. “I’ve said it already — she was the best slalom skier of this generation and I wouldn’t be her to inspire me, to watch, to learn from.”
Shiffrin also became the first ski racer to win 15 World Cup races in a calendar year, moving one past Austrian Marcel Hirscher, who has established his mark of 14, also in 2018.
“It’s a little bit distracting because I’m not chasing these records and sometimes it gets in my head that I should be thinking about these records,” Shiffrin said, regarding the constant chatter about breaking records. “The thing that helps me ski fast is when I focus on my skiing. Today, I was really trying to focus on making good slalom turns.
“It was a really special day — I know it was a big day for a lot of records. When I was in the starting gate, I thought I better make some good turns. I better earn the win.”
Shiffrin stormed to a first run lead of .48 seconds ahead of her Slovakian challenger and then hammered home the record-breaking victory in her second descent down the Semmering Panorama slalom course.
After crossing the line, Shiffrin gazed at the sky, seemingly in disbelief. There was no record-breaking victory celebration of any shape or form.
“My celebration is my lack of celebration,” Shiffrin said with a laugh. “Sometimes I have a celebration — honestly I try.
“I’m trying to feel this emotion, but sometimes it’s so much to feel that I can’t make a movement to express how I feel.
“Hands in the air, but that doesn’t feel like enough. Or do I lie on the ground and scream, but that doesn’t feel like enough. Should I do the super cool ski flip or spin around, but oh my knees, so there is always a reason not to do something so I just stand there like a doofus. I’m working on it, kind of.”
‘Pushes me to my limit’
Vlhova has now finished second to Shiffrin in five slalom races this season.
“Yeah, it’s the same story, but she pushes me to my limit and it is always a great fight with Mikaela, so it’s all good,” Vlhova said.
Setting even more records, Shiffrin moved past the legendary Italian racer Alberto Tomba by one in both career World Cup victories and slalom wins.
“I’ve seen some of his runs on YouTube — he had a really nice, fluid style, this kind of classic, European, not robotic, but discipline, beautiful to watch turns.” Shiffrin said of the flamboyant Italian racer, who dominated the sport in the late ’80s and early ’90s.
“We met for the first time at World Junior Championships in Rocarasso (Italy) after a tough day for me and I didn’t recognize him,” Shiffrin said. “He walked by and was like ‘OK, I’ll give you an autograph — he gave me a card and then I realized. He made an incredible mark in the sport.”
Adding to the astounding record haul, Shiffrin also became the first skier, male or female, to win nine World Cup slalom races in one calendar year. She previously shared the record of eight with Erika Hess (1981) and Ingemar Stenmark (1977).
“In ski racing records are made to be broken,” Shiffrin said. “Somebody is going to come and break my record, I hope, because that means that maybe I’ve inspired some girl as much as Marlies inspired me. Then the sport is going further and to a new level so I hope my records don’t stand forever.”
U.S. Ski Team ladies head coach Paul Kristofic summed up the magnitude of Shiffrin’s record setting day.
“It’s humbling for sure — she is just an incredible racer and obviously we all see that,” Kristofic said after the race. “We’re incredibly proud of her — she does all the hard work out there, taking the risk and finding the right head space to attack a course that’s beaten up and send it, and that’s not an easy thing to do.”
Despite always wanting to avoid discussions about attempting to break records, Shiffrin is sweet enough not to blame journalists for provoking these inevitable conversations.
“I know you guys have to ask about the records, it’s your job, you’re promoting the sport, so its OK,” she said with a smile. “I have to separate the records from the goal of making the best turns I can make.”
The 10,200 enthusiastic, flag-waving ski racing fans who jammed the sides and finish area of the Semmering course were treated to an amazing display of slalom turns by the most successful World Cup female slalom skier in history.
Record-breaking turns they were.