Racers getting excited for Worlds in Beaver Creek
Special to the Daily
NEW YORK CITY — There was an unmistakable air of friendly competition when Julia Mancuso, America’s most decorated female Olympic skier, referred to Mikaela Shiffrin as “the new girl” at a 2015 Vail and Beaver Creek media event.
Fresh off of her first-ever giant slalom win at the World Cup opener in Soelden, Austria, the teenage Olympic gold medalist joined Mancuso (who finished an impressive 17th in Soelden after starting No. 47) and two-time Olympic medalist Andrew Weibrecht in a pop-up showroom for J.Lindeberg, official clothing sponsor of the 2015 World Championships, last week.
Before walking to the front of the room, Mancuso tapped Shiffrin on the shoulder and gave her a hug. Once things got going, someone asked Mancuso how she felt about skyrocketing young stars like Shiffrin. The Squaw Valley veteran glanced over at her 19-year-old teammate and said, “It’s definitely a change in the times. It’s cool to see a lot of success coming up in … the new girl.
“I’m waiting for her to hit the downhill course,” Mancuso added, laughing.
SHIFFRIN ADDING SPEED EVENTS
And that might not be too far off. Now that she has her first GS win in the books, Shiffrin has her sights set on expanding her skills across disciplines. She has been training super-G but doesn’t have a date set for her inaugural World Cup start in the discipline.
“It’s going to be sometime this winter, hopefully before World Championships so I can give myself a chance at racing World Champs super-G,” she said. “But we have a pretty fast U.S. Speed Team and I have to qualify. I don’t take that lightly.”
As a tech specialist, it didn’t take long for Shiffrin to come up the ranks in GS. Let’s not forget that she finished second in last year’s World Cup GS at Beaver Creek.
“I’m 10 years behind most of the girls I’m racing against so I’ve been trying to get every second on snow that I can,” she said. “I’ve been watching a boatload of Ted (Ligety)’s skiing. I still have no idea what he does. Lately what’s been helping me a lot is loosening up my skiing and feeling the flow of the course and arcing more turns. I’ve always had trouble arcing the top of the turn … tipping your skis on edge and taking that leap of faith. In slalom it’s easy to get the timing because there is no time, you switch from edge to edge. But in GS there’s more time between gates so I’ve found myself twiddling my thumbs trying to figure out when I need to start the new turn. That’s been a huge step for me.”
ON THE NATIONAL RADAR
All three athletes talked about their excitement for the 2015 World Championships, which take place Feb. 2-15. They also mentioned how pivotal the live NBC coverage will be for placing ski racing on the American sports map.
“I didn’t watch World Cup growing up. I didn’t know it could be my job,” Mancuso said. “It’s important to show the youth of America that this is a great sport. They can see it now at its best and most exciting.”
The excitement will be enhanced by the difficulty of the World Championship race courses. In spite of his Olympic hardware, Weibrecht has only ever landed three top 10s on the World Cup — two of them at Beaver Creek. He considers the men’s Birds of Prey course one of the only two (along with the notoriously harrowing Hahnenkamm in Kitzbuehel) “real” downhill courses in the world.
“It’s one of those courses that start to finish is full-on,” he said of Beaver Creek. “There are no breaks. It’s a ton of fun as an athlete. As a spectator, it’s probably even more fun. We’re all excited. It’s exciting that they’re showcasing it on live TV, showing all of America one of the coolest ski races they could possibly see on home soil, on the big stage.”
Mancuso said the same of the women’s Raptor course, which made its debut on the World Cup last season.
“The general consensus is it’s a really tough course,” she said. “It’s fast, it’s steep, there are really critical turns so it’s hard to get the timing. There are certain G forces going into those critical turns. It takes a lot of technical speed. There aren’t going to be fluke-y winners.”
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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.