Mikaela Shiffrin’s World Cup win and the road ahead

The healing will continue

Mikaela Shiffrin takes a moment, a happy and difficult one simultaneously, after winning Monday’s World Cup giant slalom in Courchevel, France.(AP Photo/Marco Trovati)

Damn, she’s good.

I just catch myself saying that occasionally as I watch Mikaela Shiffrin’s career proceed. Every time you think she’s met her match — be it in the competition or life — she finds a way.

When she did her ACL in 2015, she came back and won the next seven slaloms she entered. She took up speed racing. Well, that super-G thing wasn’t that hard; she won a globe and world- championship medal in 2019.

And without making this a LIfetime “Television Movie of the Week,” Shiffrin is skiing through the untimely passing of her father, Jeff, and a global pandemic and doing it it magnificently.

Think about it. We’ve all experienced a loss. You’re in a haze, brain all over the place. One minute, you’re fine; the next minute, you’re gone mentally. If you’re going through this as a normal person, you’ll make some mistakes in your life — I forgot the eggs when I went to the store. I made some mistakes in my job — misspelled a name in a story.

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It’s bad if I call her Schifrin professionally, but I emerge unscathed in all likelihood. Shiffrin has a lapse in concentration while she’s working and she’s in the netting. (It’s probably a good idea she’s not racing speed events in the early going for that precise reason.)

And now she’s won for the first time since her dad died. There will always be the Olympic medals and those from world championships and the globes, but Monday’s win in Courchevel, France, in the World Cup giant slalom will probably go down in the quiet Shiffrin way as a big moment.

OK, maybe not so quiet.

“Cheers to the wonderful and kind people who said I lost my fire forever. This one’s for you,” Shiffrin tweeted.

Yes, she added, “Also this one’s for every single person who is helping me get the fire back,” because she heeds her father’s words of “Be nice. Think first. Have fun,” but the first part of that quote makes you shudder — in a good way — as a sports fan.

Along those lines, please note how quickly France’s Tessa Worley and Italy’s Federica Brignone congratulated Shiffrin after her win. They’re good but they know the bear is still a hibernating a bit and they don’t want to wake her.

Umm, the race

We are now 400 words into a piece on Shiffrin winning at Courchevel on Monday and just getting to the part where we say this was Shiffrin’s 67th World Cup win, tying her for third on the all-time list with Austria’s Marcel Hirscher,

The only people in front of her are Ingemar Stenmark (86) and Lindsey Vonn (82). (No, we will not have that discussion yet, so as not to invoke the wrath of the Alpine gods.)

While Shiffrin has always been about process and not the results, it’s no surprise that she said all the right things about how wonderful a skier Hirscher was, how she watches him to be inspired and that this record is a big deal because, well, it is.

You want analysis? Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova DNF’d. As much as Shifrrin may or may not publicly care about the overall race or the GS globe, this is big, a 100-point gain on her likely her fiercest competition for the World Cup championship and the GS and slalom discipline titles.

Shiffrin moved into second place in the overall with 275 points behind Vlhova (425), is second in the slalom (Vlhova 200-125) and third in GS points (Italy’s Brignone, 205, and Marta Bassino, 200, and MIkaela at 150).

We also have to remember that Shiffrin is still way behind in her training in tech as compared to previous years. She still has not trained speed since winning a super-G in Bansko, Bulgaria, in late January about a week before Jeff passed.

She said she still wants to ski this weekend in Val d’Isere, France, because she’s always wanted to race there. She went through this last year, eventually opting not to race. This year will likely be the same. We’re probably looking at Semmering, Austria, Dec. 28-29 for her next appearance.

Oh, boy

But then she said in postgame via FIS Soundcloud, “All of these days that I hit those numbers (i.e. records), I’m like, ‘Oh, I’m not thinking about that.’ Today, I was not thinking about that. … It feels like the first win of my life.”

This is how traumatic the last year or so has been.

More from the post-race news conference from Shiffrin: “For me there was this moment in the finish when they said my name and first, I don’t know what to do. I don’t want to raise my skis. I’m not happy. I’m proud. It’s a bit difficult to explain.”

For those of us who have lost a loved one, we’ll fill in the blanks here.

Pretending we’re Shiffrin, she’s thinking, “My grandma died in 2019. My father died this year. Then there’s the pandemic. Absolutely everything in my life is a struggle, even the small things. I’m doing my best to return to normal and, when I get there, I can’t tell my dad that I love him and I’m doing OK.”

That hurts.

We all want to scream, “Way to go, Mikaela. We love you.”

We all want to say, “We know, kid. We’ve been there and you are going to come through the other side, even though it doesn’t seem like it at times.”

So …Way to go, Mikaela. We love you. We know, kid. We’ve been there and you are going to come through the other side, even though it doesn’t seem like it at times. Have some good training, some serious quality time with your family. Have a great Christmas and we’ll see you in Semmering.

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