Mikaela Shiffrin resets, and the rest tremble?
Slalom in Croatia today
Call it the Mikaela reset.
After a what for Mikaela Shiffrin was a disastrous 17th-place finish in a World Cup giant slalom — most mortals would call it Tuesday — in Courchevel, France, she ditched her plans to race speed on the French slopes of Val d’Isere before Christmas.
A little time off, a little refocus and she body-slammed tech events on consecutive days in Lienz, Austria, after the holiday and all is right with the world again, as Shiffrin starts a World Cup slalom in Zagreb, Croatia, today.
This shows two things — how hard it is to compete in the overall by competing in a ton of events a la Slovenia’s Tina Maze in 2012-13 when she scored a record 2,414 points in a season and how self-aware Mikaela Shiffrin is.
This may be stating the obvious but there’s a reason the overall World Cup championship is so difficult. It’s hard because you’re switching up from tech in both Levi Finland, and Killington, Vermont, doing speed in Lake Louise, Alberta, the next weekend and flying across the Atlantic to compete in super-G in St. Moritz, Switzerland, the next week.
Three days later, Shiffrin blew out of the gates in giant slalom.
I get tired typing that.
It’s not like Shiffrin did poorly during that stretch. She won the Levi slalom, was third and first in Killington, took 10th and second in the Lake Louise downhills, was 10th in the Canadian super-G and third in the Swiss one.
That’s two slalom wins, a tech podium, two speed podiums, and 10th in a World Cup downhill, a finish with which fans of any racer not named Shiffrin would be perfectly delighted.
It just catches up with you. Shiffrin didn’t say much aside from a tweet after finishing 17th in Courchevel, but just looking a the schedule leading up to that event, she couldn’t have been on GS skis, if at all, before that race and it showed.
Remember that Shiffrin’s first full season on tour was Maze’s record-setting year.
Not only did Shiffrin have a front-row seat, watching Maze start all 31 World Cup and the five FIS Alpine World Ski Championships events, but the Slovenian offered her a bit of advice.
According to Bill Pennington of the New York Times, Maze told Shiffrin, “Don’t do this. This one season alone may ruin me.”
Shiffrin first disclosed this moment during last year’s worlds in Are, Sweden. In an attempt to compete in all five Alpine events in the 2018 Olympics, she admitted that she overdid her schedule, leading to disappointing tech results — her last DNFs in both GS and slalom.
Shiffrin learned from that and didn’t try to do all five at worlds the next year, despite the suggestion from Lindsey Vonn and Bode Miller that she go for it.
In the 40 starts — both World Cup and world champs — between the 2018 Olympics and the Courchevel GS, Shiffrin won 23. What’s more in 35 of those 40 races, she was on the podium. Four of those five “non-podiums” were speed races.
As an interruption to our paean to Shiffrin’s greatness, let’s remember that she’s just 24. It seems like she’s older because she already has 64 World Cup wins, five worlds golds, two Olympic victories and all the globes and a partridge in a pear tree.
Every instinct after a bad outing tells you to work harder and compete more. Shiffrin, at various points during her early 20s, has done the opposite by stepping back and regrouping.
How self-aware were you during your early 20s? (Saying, dude, I could go for a beer doesn’t count as awareness.)
This maturity is one of her underrated qualities.
And it begs the question of what’s ahead? The theory was that the 2019-20 season being the only one in the four-year cycle without worlds or the Olympics that Shiffrin might do more speed.
Now? Not so much?
Yes, after today’s slalom the tour heads to Zauchensee, Austria for downhill and combined next weekend. The combi favors tech skiers and Shiffrin is the best tech skier in the universe.
But the following week is the Flachau, Austria, night slalom and giant slalom and parallel slalom in Sestriere, Italy.
Given the reset, Shiffrin probably sends her polite regrets to Zauchensee. With five speed stops in six weeks from Jan. 25-March 1, there might be an opening for some downhill and super-G, but not as much as we might have anticipated at the beginning of the year.
As much as 17th in Courchevel might have been a low point for Shiffrin recently, the rest of the field might come to rue it if she’s back on her game as it seems.