Crystal ball sees gold for Mikaela Shiffrin
“Mikaela Shiffrin: ‘World’s best alpine skier’ tipped to make medal-winning history”
“Mikaela Shiffrin’s path toward Olympic dominance starts with family.”
“Mikaela Shiffrin: The new face of American skiing?”
Welcome to the world of heightened Olympic expectations in headline form, so, perhaps, it’s time to tap the breaks a bit.
Yes, she’s scheduled to compete in all five alpine events in Pyeongchang, South Korea, but five medals, much less gold, ain’t happening. She has all of seven World Cup downhill starts and eight in super-G. She is a once-in-a-lifetime talent, but you simply don’t win Olympic gold after all of 15 speed starts.
Let’s hold the talk on Olympic dominance. And, yes, she’s been one of the faces of American skiing (Lindsey Vonn, ahem, not to mention Ted Ligety) for the last five years. Welcome to the party.
But here’s an important fact before we just hand Mikaela a whole bunch of Olympic medals — only three skiers in the history have won three golds during one Olympiad.
You knew this, of course, but it’s Austria’s Tony Salier (1956, downhill, giant slalom and slalom), France’s Jean-Claude Killy (1968, same combination) and Croatia’s Janica Kostelic (2002, GS, slalom and combined.)
Only two athletes have four alpine golds during their careers — Kostelic and Norway’s Kjetil Andre Aamodt. Only two American racers have won two Olympic gold medals during their careers.
Ligety — you knew that, of course, with 2006 combined and 2014 GS — and Andrea Mead Lawrence — GS and slalom crowns in 1952. (No one knew that.)
Yes, Shiffrin is in a position to make history, but everyone needs to chill out.
On the other hand
The sky is not falling because Shiffrin has three DNFs in her last four World Cup races. Her DNF in Lenzheide, Switzerland, can be viewed as disconcerting, but she’s been going at a ridiculous pace since late December.
Also, here’s another fun fact. Shiffrin has 57 World Cup slalom starts and six DNFs during her career. Three of her slalom DNFs occurred during her rookie season of 2011-12, when she was 16. She was doubtless grounded for those transgressions.
DNFs in tech events, where Shiffrin is usually money, is probably a side effect of training speed for Cortina, Italy, last month. There’s a reason why few ski in all four base disciplines — five if you count combi. Train for speed and you lose some technical touch and vice versa.
After Lenzerheide, Team Shiffrin took last week off from Garmisch, Germany, and has doubtless been training tech nonstop, as her Olympics begin with GS on Sunday, Feb. 11.
The one thing we know is that Shiffrin is never over-awed by a big stage. While as fans, we were pacing and biting our nails, the lady was taking a nap between runs of the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships slalom at Beaver Creek.
So what’s realistic?
The best case is the unlikely Salier-Killy-Kostelic triple gold. For Shiffrin that would be in the GS and slalom races early during the Games, capped by the combined at the end.
Worse case is getting skunked on the medal count.
Neither is likely.
• Giant slalom: Germany’s Viktoria Rebensburg, bronze in the 2014 Olympics, and France’s Tessa Worley, 2017 Worlds GS champ, are the major competition. Shiffrin finished second at the 2017 Worlds and was fifth in the discipline in Sochi, Russia.
We’re calling for a breakthrough with Shiffrin edging Worley and Rebensburg in that order.
• Slalom: Shiffrin defends her Olympic title. This is not a hard call. Switzerland’s Wendy Holdner and Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova take silver and bronze, respectively.
• Combined: This should be Shiffrin’s event as tech racers stay within 1-1.5 seconds and then slap around the speedsters in the slalom.
But the other thing to remember about the combined is that favorites don’t win. There is also a what-the-fudge winner at the Olympics and/or Worlds. Ergo, Norway’s Ragnhild Mowinckel wins, Austria’s Anna Veith (nee Feninger) in silver and Shiffrin third.
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934, firstname.lastname@example.org and @cfreud.
Rita’s two closest peers have climbed the 8,850-meter (29,035-foot) peak 21 times each, but both of them have retired from mountain climbing.