Mikaela Shiffrin finishes 2nd behind Vlhova in comeback race
Mikaela Shiffrin takes 2nd in World Cup return
It’s kind of like riding a bike, except that one longs for time when the most important things about the bicycle were the basket, the ringer and the streamers.
Three-hundred days after her last World Cup appearance, Mikaela Shiffrin returned to the white circus in Saturday’s women’s slalom in Levi, Finland, finishing second behind Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova by a margin of 0.18 seconds. Austria’s Katharina Liensberger finished third.
“Nothing’s changed, but also everything’s changed,” Shiffrin told the Associated Press. “But it’s really fun to be here, to see everybody skiing. It’s fun to watch and, for me, it was fun to do.”
She may still be a young 25 years old, but Shiffrin sounds like an old soul. Since she last raced — a super-G in Bansko, Bulgaria, on Jan. 26 — her father, Jeff, died in an accident. After taking a little more than a month off, she returned to the World Cup only to see the rest of the season wiped out by the coronavirus.
“I didn’t want to dream that I’d be on the podium because I wasn’t sure if it was possible. Since February I’ve been wondering if I’d even come back at all. Just getting in the start gate is the best thing I could do.”— U.S. Ski & Snowboard Team (@usskiteam) November 21, 2020
–@MikaelaShiffrin 🇺🇸🥈 #worldcuplevi pic.twitter.com/NUKayzB2aK
Saturday was about getting back to normal, or as close as whatever will serve as normal for Shiffrin and her family in this new time.
When asked in a post-race news conference, via FIS Soundcloud, about how she’s been during the last 300 days, Shiffrin said, “How much time do we have? Well, not great.”
On a more serious note: “There is, I forget what it’s called, a name for when you go through a really bad tragedy in life. After that, some pieces of your life may be a little better than they were before because your priorities change and you enjoy moments with family more or you enjoy specific things more. I enjoy a second-place finish more than I did before because I felt like I was pushing and had some good skiing and it was just the best I could do today. I feel like I can be more proud of that than I used to be. Some things are better. It’s a real process that people go through.”
Pre-race was a little different for Shiffrin. She found herself more chatty around the start house, asking race officials how they were doing and if they were warm enough.
“That’s why I wanted to do it last year,” Shiffrin said. “That’s what I wanted to figure out. ’Do I want to be doing this?’ It would be better to figure that out in March. … I have to ski again because I have to know if this is something I can keep doing. It felt like something that needed to happen. Hopefully, from here, I can keep going because I want to.”
Shiffrin drew the No. 1 bib and came down in 54.35 seconds, a time that held until Vlhova went. The Slovakian took a 0.15-second lead.
During her news conference, Shiffrin disclosed that she wanted to return for last year’s tech races in Ofterschwang, Germany, because those races fell on her dad’s birthday. After Ofterschwang was scrubbed, Shiffrin had intended to go to Are, Sweden, compete there and then leave for home before the World Cup Finals in Cortina, Italy, the site of this season’s world championships.
“Sorry, Cortina. Nothing against you,” Shiffrin joked. “I love racing there.”
Racing second-to-last during the flip, Shiffrin came down in green numbers — Vlhova still had to go — but felt the wind on the pitch portion of the run slowed her down.
While Vlhova won the day, Shiffrin seemed content.
“I felt a lot of happiness skiing today and racing. I always prefer training because I can take more runs and we’re done,” Shiffrin said. “Racing takes so long and there’s so much waiting. But when I was racing today, I had fun. There’s many things I could do better. I can go faster. But I had fun and I feel like I did some really good skiing. That’s the most important thing right now.”
For the record, Vlhova indeed, did receive a reindeer after her victory, as is custom in Levi. Vlhova named it Igor after her father. Shiffrin has won four times in Levi, and has reindeer named Rudolph, Mr. Gru, Sven and Ingemar.
Fellow Americans Resi Stiegler, Paula Moltzan and Nina O’Brien all failed to make the flip, while Lila Lapanga was disqualified from the first run.
In a year that will have many quirks, one such oddity is that the women race slalom twice in Levi this year. They’ll do it all over again on Sunday in Finland.