So, what’s good for Mikaela Shiffrin?
So, what’s good for Mikaela Shiffrin?
Mikaela Shiffrin finished second and fifth in World Cup slaloms this weekend in Levi, Finland, scored 125 points and sits third in the season standings with three of 34 scheduled events — not including world championships in Cortina, Italy — concluded.
That’s a very journalism-school lead on Shiffrin’s 2020-21 season debut last weekend.
Since we’re really only one-and-a-half weekends into the campaign, we can’t make any conclusions except that it appears Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova has come to play this year, winning both slaloms in Levi and having finished third in the giant slalom in Solden, Austria, an event Shiffrin officially skipped because of a bad back.
The question, however, remains, “What does Mikaela Shiffrin want out of this year?” And that colors how we interpret her success.
How is she approaching 2020-21? Having suffered a huge loss with her father, is winning the World Cup championship, a title she held for three straight years from 2017-19, a goal? Is recapturing the slalom title, something she’s done six out of the last eight seasons, an aim? Are discipline titles even on the radar? (She won the super-G and GS in addition to slalom in 2018-19.)
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Is she ramping up toward the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in Cortina in February? (We’re probably getting warmer here.)
Shiffrin has never been public in her goal-setting. That would account for all the preseason stories you didn’t see about her talking about accomplishing x, y and z. In fact, she really has been adamant in her career about not giving a hoot about goals for which others care.
Remember how she pretty much blew off Lindsey Vonn and Bode Miller after winning the 2019 worlds super-G in Are, Sweden? Both Vonn and Miller thought Shiffrin should go for five golds at worlds. Shiffrin said, “No thanks,” and choppered out of Are, leaving the championships for a week until the tech races rolled around the following week.
Though she has 66, Shiffrin doesn’t care about the World Cup wins record of 86, held by Ingemar Stenmark or that Vonn is second on . the list with 82 and Marcel Hirscher is third with 67.
When she wins her next race she will tie Hirscher. Win No. 2 will put Shiffrin third on the all-time list. She. Does. Not. Care, especially in comparison to say, Vonn, who would likely come out of retirement and trade several vital organs in the quest to pass Stenmark. (We adore Vonn equally, but we just acknowledge that she and Shiffrin are different people.)
Look at Shiffrin’s career. She’s happy to win races and globes, but she doesn’t get super-worked up about them. The closest we’ve gotten to a serious emotional moment was when she clinched her first GS title back at the World Cup finals in March 2019.
Yes, the Olympics and worlds clearly hold a special place in her heart, as evidenced by her record in those events — two Olympic golds (2014 slalom and 2018 GS) and five victories at championships (four in slalom; one in super-G).
But if you listen to her talk — and that’s my life from October to March — it’s all about skiing well. Shiffrin is a process, not a results, athlete.
“It’s about the process. It’s about improvement. It’s not about winning,” Jeff Shiffrin told The Denver Post during the 2014 Olympics. “When you win, enjoy it, be excited about it. Nothing changes. It doesn’t mean you don’t get excited as hell when it happens. It just makes it all the more meaningful that, yep, it’s about the process. It’s about sticking with, ‘I have to be better tomorrow than today, if at all possible.’ The training is the work, the racing is just icing on the cake.”
If she skis to her standards, Shiffrin is happy, regardless of the finish. Yes, it’s a bit of a semantic dodge, but it’s the essence of Shiffrin.
That has worked for her because Shiffrin is such a talent that if she takes care of her own shop things are probably going to turn out fine as they did when she was coming up through the ranks as the latest and greatest tech skier during the middle of the last decade. And it was a perfect for the 2018-19 season, when she won 17 World Cups and 19 times, including worlds.
And it was the right approach last year, when not everything was breaking her was like 2018-19, even before her father’s passing.
It’s hard to see Shiffrin changing that focus for 2020-21.
However, this approach may make it hard for us to measure her year in comparison to other campaigns because the wins may or may not come.
Shiffrin will win some races this season, but will she ever match the 2018-19? Not likely. No disrespect to Mikaela, but a lot of things had to come together for 19 wins, including worlds, and the odds of the cosmos coming together like that again are long.
There are going to be days were Shiffrin skis well and Vlhova is just better. That was Levi last weekend. Fun trivia from the U.S. Ski Team: Shiffrin and Vlhova have won the last 28 World Cup slaloms, dating back to 2017. (Sweden’s Frida Hansdotter, now retired, was the last woman not named Shiffrin or Vlhova to win a World Cup slalom — Flachau, Austria, Jan. 10, 2017.)
There are going to be days when she doesn’t ski well, just because she’s actually human. And there are going to be days that Shiffrin is physically present at a race, yet not there mentally or emotionally, because, again, she’s a human who’s mourning.
Yes, we’ll watch the standings — be they the overall or the discipline rankings — but the better m.o. would be to listen to how she’s talking.
Shiffrin sounded thoughtful, happy and humorous, so call it a good weekend.
On to the parallel GS in Lech-Zurs, Austria.