Mikaela Shiffrin looks to cap unusual season at World Cup Finals
Special to the Daily
ST. MORITZ, Switzerland — Training for World Cup Finals this week in St. Moritz, Mikaela Shiffrin was in charge of presenting race bibs to a group of 15- and 16-year-old racers on Monday as part of Tuesday’s Longines Future Champions Race. The race selected the top U16 racers from 14 World Cup countries to compete in a giant slalom on the same course used for the World Cup Finals.
A three-time winner of Longines’ Rising Star Award, Shiffrin, now an ambassador for the Swiss watch brand, posed for a photograph with each young racer and provided the group some words of wisdom.
“Don’t let your nerves get to you,” she told her rapt audience. “Remember that if you’re nervous, it means you care. You just have to use those nerves for positive energy on the course.”
Picking up Right where she left off
Sidelined in December when a training crash resulted in a partially torn MCL and a hairline fracture in her right knee, the Eagle-Vail resident charged back to the World Cup circuit last month with an immediate victory in the Feb. 15 slalom in Crans Montana, Switzerland. On March 6, she handily won the World Cup slalom race in Jasna, Slovakia, beating most of the field, as she did in the two races in Aspen earlier this season, by more than three seconds — an unprecedented gap in ski racing.
“My slalom feels like it’s almost gotten better in some ways,” Shiffrin said on Monday. “I definitely picked up where I left off. It was fairly quick for me to get the rhythm back because it’s been my best event. With the giant slalom, that’s been a little bit more difficult. The giant slalom in Jasna was eye opening for me because I was thinking in slalom I picked it up so fast, maybe (with) GS I can also get right back into it.”
The 21-year-old (her birthday was Sunday) kicked off the season with a second place in the Soelden giant slalom and nearly won the giant slalom in Aspen before crashing three gates from the finish line. She missed the third giant slalom of the season immediately following her injury and followed her crushing Jasna slalom victory with a 14th in the giant slalom, not quite the result she was hoping for.
“I was really in top (GS) shape at the beginning of the season, but I lost the timing quite a bit,” she said. “I only had two days of GS training before Jasna so it doesn’t really add up. I’ve spent the past few days focusing more on GS and it feels like the timing is coming back.”
‘Brought out a dark side’
Rather than compete in the World Cup races last weekend in Lenzerheide, Switzerland, Shiffrin decided to focus on giant slalom training for finals. After missing so much of the season, she is no longer in contention for the slalom globe, which she has claimed the past three years. As far as slalom goes, she’s untouchable. She has won the last seven slalom races she’s entered in addition to her big hometown victory — last season’s second World Championship gold medal, marking one of the longest streaks in World Cup history.
Before her injury, Shiffrin had planned to add super-G to her repertoire and had landed an impressive 15th place in her inaugural super-G race in Lake Louise, Alberta, in November. Following her injury and hiatus, with no super-G training, she still finished in the points in the Feb. 27 super-G in Andorra (29th) and followed up with an eighth place in her first World Cup combined event. She won’t race in the super-G in the World Cup Finals.
“This season was a crash course in how to be injured and how to come back. My whole mentality throughout coming back was trying to get healthy and strong as fast as I could. I had to give my knee time to heal, but when I came back I basically felt like 100 percent from the start. It reminded me that anything can be done if you have the proper plan,” she said.
Considering the rash of injuries among top racers on the World Cup this season, Mikaela’s advice on how to get through it, she said half-jokingly, is to find a human punching bag. In her case, her mother, Eileen, who accompanies Mikaela throughout the season, was the unlucky victim.
“I think it’s important to have somebody next to you that you can yell at a lot,” Mikaela said, smiling at her mother. “I think I was pretty mean. There were a couple times when my parents said, ‘You’re being awful.’ I’ve always been a pretty happy person since I was little. This injury really brought out a dark side in me. That’s what happens when you can’t do the one thing you really want to do.”
It was emotionally excruciating for Shiffrin to watch all the races she was missing while hobbling around on crutches.
“Everything is annoying with crutches. Taking a shower was the worst thing ever. I fell down the stairs twice and fell up the stairs. Everything was really frustrating. That’s where some of my anger came from,” she said.
Shiffrin was only on crutches for two weeks. Getting the green light to bear weight and walk again marked her change of face, transforming her back into her pleasant self. Compared to racers recently sidelined with more serious injuries — Ted Ligety, Aksel Lund Svindal, Anna Fenninger and also Lindsey Vonn, who would likely have won another overall globe if not for yet another knee injury — Shiffrin was relatively lucky to be able to come back the same season and do so well. But the entire experience provided her with a fresh perspective on the fragile nature of her sport.
“This year I learned the lesson that you have a plan and sometimes it doesn’t work out,” she said. “Sometimes it’s just one race and you’re out for the season. Lindsey fell and she couldn’t finish the rest of the season. You do what you can with the time that you have and make the most out of every moment. That’s what I’m trying to do now and not think too much about the future … just take advantage of this time and do well in these last races.”
To be sure, when this season began, Shiffrin had her eye on the overall globe. Now that plan, barring (knock on wood) any other unforeseen obstacles, will be the goal for next season, as well as becoming an all-discipline skier.
“The plan right now is that I’ll do most of the super-Gs next year. We’ll see how the training goes this summer, but I think I’ll do some of the downhills. I’m starting training right away in the spring. I’ll have camps in April and May and one camp will be mostly speed. I’ve had enough experience now that I’m comfortable doing super-G. I love it. But it’s about getting the time on the skis to really feel confident.”
Getting back to her advice for young racers hoping to follow in her footsteps, like those at the Longines race, the long-term nugget of wisdom she imparted was one that she was personally reminded of this season.
“The injury was a bummer. There were days when I was like, ‘What’s the point?’ At the end of the day, after you work so hard, to get hurt, I’m like, ‘Why are we doing this?’ But there’s always risks and the reward I get for putting in the work — standing on the podium — that’s a moment when I’m like, ‘Yeah … it’s worth it,” she said. “For young skiers, it’s important that they love it. It’s a tough sport. You’re outside all day long and it’s cold and it’s tiring. I think a lot of kids do the sport and they don’t really love it. You have to be true to yourself and true to your passions. It’s about making the most of it … loving it and doing all you can in it. If you love it, you’ll do all you can.”