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Mikaela Shiffrin returns to the World Cup on Saturday

Mikaela Shiffrin returns to the World Cup on Saturday

Mikaela Shiffrin will kick out of the gates in her first World Cup race of the season on Saturday in Levi, Finland. It’s her first start since a super-G win in January in Bulgaria.

It’s not exactly like Joe Namath guaranteeing victory before the Super Bowl against the Baltimore Colts, but, for Mikaela Shiffrin, it is almost audacious.

In a U.S. Ski Team tweet on Thursday, the national team said, “When asked what she’d name her reindeer if she were to win the @fisalpine World Cup this weekend, Olympic champ @MikaelaShiffrin said ’Copper.’”

As we all know, if you win the World Cup slalom in Levi, Finland, you win a reindeer, or, more accurately, you get to name the creature and nice Finns take care of it for you because sticking a reindeer in the overhead compartment of an airplane takes some work.

Shiffrin has won four times in Levi, where the World Cup gets going in earnest on Saturday, and, as a result, has Rudolph, Sven, Mr. Gru and Ingemar. If she wins on Saturday, reindeer No. 5 will be Copper for the mountain where she’s been training this preseason.

On Rudolph, on Sven, on Mr. Gru, Ingemar and Copper. (We suppose that works.)

Aside from the grave importance of the reindeer, Shiffrin on Saturday will be competing in her first World Cup race since Jan. 26. She won a super-G in Bansko, Bulgaria. Everything happened after that — the untimely death of her father, the beginning of this thing called coronavirus and the cancellation of the 2019-20 World Cup season.

Shiffrin was considering racing in the traditional opener in Soelden, Austria, giant slalom in October, but “tweaked” her back and returned home a week before the race on Oct. 17.

As much as the International Ski Federation and the general world of skiing needs Shiffrin as a headliner, time has moved on. Because of life events, Shiffrin is starting a season defending just one title, as the FIS Alpine World Ski Championship slalom champion. She will defend that crown in February in Cortina, Italy,

The World Cup champion is Italy’s Federica Brignone who also holds the globe in giant slalom. Switzerland’s Corinne Suter is the defending champion in downhill and super-G, while Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova is the lady to beat in slalom.

In Soelden, Italian Marta Bassino won the GS. She’s not a headliner, but she’s no surprise. Bassino finished fourth in the GS points and beat Shiffrin in the Killington, Vermont, giant slalom last year.

Brignone and Vlhova finished second and third, respectively. No surprises there. Under the category of “pleasant surprise,” American Paula Moltzan finished 10th.

Yes, of course, we’re all thinking in the back of our mind in that voice that you hear in movie previews, “Mikaela’s back and she’s badder than ever. This time she’s skiing with a purpose …” You can even get the “The Terminator” theme.

We want to see her bust out on Saturday, paste the field and have a happy ending.

Can she win on Saturday? Yes, she’s the favorite in any race she enters. She is that good. Will she win? It’s a big ask, people. And even if she does win, it’s not going to be the storybook happy ending. While it would be a tremendous story, one day of racing doesn’t make up for nine months of loss.

This is going to be a continuing process for Shiffrin. As with anyone dealing with a gaping loss, there will be good days and bad and you never know what today is going to be.

View Saturday as a return to a “new normal” for Shiffrin. As low of a bar as it sounds like for her, let’s see her put together two runs and finish in the points.

Remember she hasn’t raced since January. As much training as she has been able to get in at Copper, nothing simulates racing. We can talk about her winning and points’ scenarios as the season progresses and Shiffrin gets in a rhythm.

But if she does win, we look forward to Copper.


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