Mikaela Shiffrin closes in on overall title at Squaw Valley races
Watch today’s event
Today’s giant slalom at Squaw Valley will be streamed live at http://www.nbcsports.com/live
Run 1: 11:30 a.m.
Run 2: 2 p.m.
SQUAW VALLEY, Calif. — Jeff Shiffrin quickly found that his daughter could keep up with him on skis. Every time he looked back, she was on his tail.
She was just 5 at the time.
“It was like, well, that’s a trajectory that will put her at the top of the ski world if she continues on,” Jeff Shiffrin said.
Sixteen years later, with lots of hard work, Mikaela Shiffrin is indeed at the top of the ski world, with an opportunity to win the overall title at Aspen World Cup Finals next week.
Before that happens, Shiffrin will be a favorite in the giant slalom today and the slalom Saturday at Squaw Valley, which is hosting its first World Cup since 1969.
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She will have the chance to clinch her fourth slalom discipline title this weekend.
She holds a 178-point lead in the overall World Cup standings with six races left, all in the U.S.
But Shiffrin, 21, will be focused on each race, not the chase for the overall, said her coach, Mike Day.
“We don’t talk about the overall as part of our process,” Day said. “I expect her to do good things here. She skis at her best when she’s aggressive, and I expect to see aggressive skiing that’s competitive and leaving here with two good results.”
Always trying to be better
Day says Shiffrin is so good because she outworks everyone on the hill. Her dad says she’s always trying to improve.
“Every time she goes out on skis she’s just trying to do it better,” Jeff Shiffrin said.
And this year has been a great progression for her. She has again dominated her best discipline, slalom. She focused on giant slalom in early season training, Day said, and that paid off this season, with two wins and two second-place finishes in that discipline.
She won her first career race in the alpine combined last month. She also has had two top 10 finishes in the super-G.
Day said he’s not surprised that Shiffrin is in the running for an overall, but that was not a goal for the season.
“I would say the season for sure has been an excellent success so far and we’re in a position that maybe we didn’t anticipate,” Day said. “But it’s a nice position to be in.”
The Patriots of skiing
Shiffrin’s closest competitor in the overall is Ilka Stuhec, of Slovenia, with six races left. The crystal globes for the overall title and discipline title winners will be awarded at the World Cup Finals in Aspen. It’s the first time the World Cup Finals have been in the United States since they were in Vail in 1997.
Shiffrin has already won a gold medal in the Olympics and four FIS Alpine World Ski Championships medals, but the overall title would be a new step in her already stellar career. She would be just the fifth American to win an overall title, joining Lindsey Vonn, Bode Miller, Tamara McKinney and Phil Mahre.
U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association President and CEO Tiger Shaw, a former World Cup racer and two-time Olympian, likened winning the overall to the New England Patriots winning multiple Super Bowls and having an undefeated regular season.
“You need to have a heck of run,” he said. “It takes incredible focus and living in the moment, in the zone, and to be able to push out of your field of vision all the extraneous things that aren’t going to help you. That includes all the media attention, all the travel … and you’ve got to just keep your nose to the grindstone. At the end of the season you look up, and if there’s a globe there, then that’s amazing. But you can’t wish your way there, you have to work your way there.”
Just making really good turns
The travel has indeed been tough in the last few weeks, with Shiffrin jetting across 17 time zones from races in Europe to South Korea (to check out the 2018 Olympic course), back to the U.S. But she did have some time in Vail last week, training on Vail Mountain and spending time at home in Eagle-Vail.
“I think with the intensity and length of the season that was a really nice stop in Colorado to take five days to do some training and also unwind a little bit and relax,” Day said. “There are added burdens to being at home, but I think the positives outweigh the negatives.”
Jeff Shiffrin said he’ll be enjoying the unusual U.S. spring races as his daughter contends for a globe or two.
“It feels special because it’s home and there’s a lot of people in the U.S. who are going to be enthusiastic and care,” he said. “But you just have to maintain that focus and not get overwhelmed by all the rest of the ‘white circus’ that goes with it. That can mess you up.”
Ultimately, it’s simply about linking together good turns, he said.
“More really good turns without any big mistakes,” Jeff Shiffrin said. “That’s what it takes.”
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Jeff Shiffrin, with his wife, Eileen, made the Vail area their home decades ago, and together raised Mikaela and Taylor Shiffrin, who was a member of the two-time NCAA Champion University of Denver Ski Team.