So what does Mikaela Shiffrin do for an encore?
The season kicks off Saturday
In 1498, Leonardo Da Vinci painted “The Last Supper.”
How does one top that? Well, roughly within the next 10 years, Da Vinci created the “Mona Lisa.”
Yes, the comparison is extreme — Alpine ski-racer Mikaela Shiffrin is not quite on Da Vinci’s level when it comes to contributions to humanity — but the expectations for the 2019-20 World Cup season which starts on Saturday with a giant slalom in Soelden, Austria, are.
After winning 19 of her 29 starts in 2018-19— between the World Cup and the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships — setting a record for World Cup wins in a season (17), winning two golds at worlds (super-G and slalom), scoring 2,184 World Cup points, the second most in World Cup history for her third consecutive overall title, winning discipline titles in super-G, giant slalom and slalom and finishing in the top 10 of all 29 races she entered, how does she follow that?
Is it possible to paint a “Mona Lisa” after you just finished “The Last Supper?” The tendency is to scale back expectations after her 2018-19 season.
- • After Slovenian Tina Maze conquered everything during her record 2012-13 season, scoring a record 2,414 points with 11 World Cup wins and one worlds gold (super-G), she “slumped” down to 964 points, one World Cup win and two Olympic wins in Russia.
- • Lindsey Vonn’s apex was the 2011-2012 season with 1,980 points and 12 victories. She continued her dominance with six wins in 2012-13 until she blew up her right knee at the worlds super-G in Schladming, Austria, inexorably altering her career.
- • Hermann Maier followed his 2,000 points in 2000, including 10 wins, quite well with 1,948 points, another World Cup title, globes in downhill and super-G, 13 World Cup wins, including the Birds of Prey downhill, and a silver medal in the downhill at worlds.
History says it’s daunting for Shiffrin to come close to repeating was she did last season. Yet there is the part of the brain that asks what is not possible with Shiffrin?
Her performance trend line of World Cup wins has gone from six in 2014-2015 to 11 in 2016-17 — she did her ACL in 2015-16 — to 12 in 2017-18 to 17 last year. She has expanded her skillset out of being a Marcel Hirscher-tech racer — she won the super-G season crown last year. She even won a downhill in Lake Louise, Alberta, in December 2017.
The heart says, “Of course, she can.” The brain still advises caution.
Shiffrin will be kicking out for the eighth time in her career in Soelden, and she has “only” one win there in her career (2014). She started last season with a third-place finish, so much like an NFL opener, it’s best not to make too much of the first race of the season.
Traditionally, Levi, Finland, the first slalom of the season — Nov. 23 this year — has been friendlier to her. In six starts, she’s won three times, been on the podium five times and finished 11th in 2014, after which, by her standards, she royally chewed herself out in the press.
If she isn’t in the win column after Soelden and Levi, there’s Killington, Vermont, the only “home” stop on the tour. Holding a GS and a slalom race over Thanksgiving weekend, Shiffrin’s won one race there each of the last three years near her old stomping grounds at the Burke Academy.
Lake Louise, the first speed stop of the season, is usually on her schedule. The slope, being one of the tamer on the circuit, has always been a comfortable place for Shiffrin. She’s the defending super-G champ there on Dec. 8.
Does Shiffrin win the overall?
Very simply, yes.
This is more math than skiing. Shiffrin is part of a dying breed of overall racers. While she won’t enter every downhill this season, she’ll enter enough and win “bonus points” by finishing in the top 30. Again, she finished no worse than ninth — a position worth 29 points in the World Cup standings — last year.
Had she not entered any speed events (downhill or super-G) last year, she still would have run away from her nearest competition, Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova, 1,655-1,383.
Let’s say her victory total drops by more than half, plummetting from 17 to eight. That’s still a base of 800 points and not a long road to get to Vlhova’s 1,383.
Vlhova will be Shiffrin’s biggest competition for the slalom title. Shiffrin has won that globe six of the last seven years, the only miss coming with her ACL injury in 2015.
GS should be a fun chase all season with Shiffrin (675 points last year), Vlhova (578), France’s Tessa Worley (500) and Germany’s Viktoria Rebensburg (460).
What about speed?
These are probably the biggest questions? Does Shiffrin repeat as the super-G champ? Doubt it. Remember that bad weather — lack of snow or too much — scrubbed a bunch of super-Gs, in which Shiffrin was not scheduled to compete.
There are seven super-Gs this year, and she won’t compete in them all.
That said, does she compete in more downhills this year? The 2019-20 season is the only in a four-year schedule without a world championships or an Olympics. The schedule is more spread out than usual.
The women’s World Cup has a stretch from Jan. 25-March 1 with 10 speed events (four downhills, four super-Gs, and two combineds) with just two tech events, a GS and slalom in Maribor, Slovenia.
This might be an opportunity to enter a few speed races without losing her edge in her bread and butter. In an interview with the Vail Daily in August, she said she was considering it.
“There are speed races that I am considering, at least that I wouldn’t have otherwise if it were busy as it has been,” Shiffrin said. “In a sense, the schedule is not easier but makes it possible to explore some different things. For sure, it’s a good year to push myself a little bit more, not too much but just see what the possibilities are.”
So how many wins?
When in doubt, follow the money. Bwin.com, an international betting website, has Shiffrin at -500 to win the overall, meaning that you have to bet $500 to win $100. Vlhova is next at +1000 — $100 to win $1,000.
The money overwhelmingly likes Shiffrin for a fourth consecutive World Cup title, and we agree.
On Interwetten.com, one can make bets on season-specific numbers. Will a racer win more than 13 races? The odds are 75-1 and keep in mind, Shiffrin had 17 last year.
How about a bet on someone earning more than 960 points in slalom? (Shiffrin had 980 last year.) That’s 150-1. Two-thousand points in a season? It’s 250-1.
Of course, we use these numbers for recreational purposes only, but they go back to how ridiculous Shiffrin was last year, and how hard a repeat of those accomplishments are. The gambling industry does not stay in business by giving away money,
We’ll go with 12 wins for Shiffrin, the World Cup championship, and the slalom title, but not GS.
In the meantime, Shiffrin is probably looking for her paintbrushes.