Trying to explain how good Mikaela really is
January 10, 2018
Mikaela Shiffrin will not win a race this weekend.
As the women's World Cup heads to Bad Kleinkirchheim, Austria, for two speed events, she will be taking the weekend off.
Will this endanger Shiffrin's 821-point World Cup lead? Enjoy your weekend, Mikaela.
Everyone had high expectations for Shiffrin this season, but this has been kind of ridiculous. Her five World Cup wins to start the calendar year of 2018 is a new record, yet another for her collection.
My favorite stat came from a U.S. Ski Team email — in Shiffrin's last 10 World cup races during a span of three weeks, she has nine wins and a third-place finish.
Seriously what's up with third on Dec. 29 in Lienz, Austria, in giant slalom? Yes, Mikaela's no longer a kid — she's all of 22 ¬— but do her parents make run laps or do something punitive after a mere bronze medal?
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The significance of 960
Nine wins and a third place adds up to 960 points. First off, just say that — "Mikaela Shiffrin has scored 960 points in three weeks."
How ridiculous is that?
• Her nearest completion in the women's World Cup, Wendy Holdener, of Switzerland, has 560 points all season. While we knock wood as we type this, Shiffrin pretty much has the World Cup title wrapped.
• Last year, only four females scored more than 960 points all season — Shiffrin (1,643), Slovenia's Ilka Stuhec (1,325), Italy's Sofia Goggia (1,197) and Switzerland's Lara Gut (1,023). Shiffrin has 1,381 points for the 2017-18 season and it's Thursday, Jan. 11.
• Only Austria's Marcel Hirscher (1,599) had more than 960 points last season on the men's side. Norway's Kjetil Jansurd finished second in the men's race with 924.
• We are seeing a level of dominance equal to the greats of skiing. The women's record for most World Cup wins in a season is Switzerland's Vreni Schneider with 14 in 1988-89. Lindsey Vonn had seasons of 12 victories (2011-12) and 11 (2009-10). Austria's Annemarie Moser-Proell (1972-73), Slovenia's Tina Maze (2012-13) and somebody named Shiffrin (last year) have all won 11 in one season.
This year's Mikaela has 10 wins on Thursday, Jan. 11.
Is 2,414 possible?
The year Maze won 11 times was also the season she set the all-time mark of 2,414 points in a World Cup season. (Hermann Maier holds the men's mark with 2,000 in 1999-2000.)
Writers have been quick to note that Shiffrin is on pace to surpass that mark. What they don't note is, due to weather and the schedule to date, the women's tour has had only one weekend of full speed events — Lake Louise, Alberta, back in December.
Of course, Shiffrin finished third in the first Canadian downhill, won the second downhill there and took fifth in super-G.
With the Val D'Isere, France, downhill snowed out, Shiffrin still tops the downhill standings. She will sit out a downhill and super-G in Austria this weekend, and two of the next three weeks before the Olympics are speed weeks — Cortina, Italy, and Garmisch, Germany — so that may slow her down in her quest (intended or not) to catch Maze.
Or does it?
Shiffrin is racing in Cortina, where there will be two downhills and a super-G. This is just a pet theory of mine, but it seems that Team Shiffrin is having her expand to speed in select venues where she's comfortable.
Last December was the third time she ran at Lake Louise, and the results were incredible. Last year, she took fourth at the Cortina super-G. She's obviously comfortable there.
Taking the rest of the World Cup schedule, there are only four more weekends, or eight races, of tech left, as well as a city event and two combineds. Were she to win all 11 events — that would give her 21 victories for the season, which would be silly; the record is 14 — she would get 2,481 points and the record.
Even if she gets some good results in speed events and some extra points, we'll call this mathematically possible, but not realistically possible. More realistic is breaking 2,000.
The greater goal?
It remains, first and foremost, the Olympics. The way Shiffrin's going, one kind of wished the Olympics started right now.
She's only 22, but Shiffrin does seem to be rather oblivious to pressure. The lady actually took a nap between runs of her slalom win here at the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships. She can probably stand the wait.
The women will be running tech first, and then speed in Pyeongchang, South Korea, so Shiffrin has GS right out of the gate on Sunday, Feb. 11 (in Colorado). The slalom is two days later, Tuesday, Feb. 13, here or Wednesday, Feb. 14, in South Korea. (This will damage my brain by the end of the Olympics.)
The combined comes toward the end of the Games on Thursday, Feb. 22/Friday, Feb. 23, depending on location. The defending slalom champion, she will likely emerge from the Olympics a household name.
As for the World Cup, she has a 335-point lead over Slovakia's Petra Vlhova in the slalom race with four slaloms and a city event remaining. With 500 points the most Vlhova can gain, knocking wood again, Shiffrin's winning the slalom globe.
The overall, of course, is out there for Shiffrin to take. One has to like her chances with an 821-point lead.
Perhaps the biggest question is the GS. Shiffrin leads that race with 385 points ahead of France's Tessa Worley (330) and Germany's Viktoria Rebensburg (322).
We said we were looking at a one-of-a-kind skier when we were watching Vonn at the height of her powers. We were wrong.
Buckle up for the ride known as "Mikaela Shiffrin 2018."
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934, firstname.lastname@example.org and @cfreud.
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