Vail Daily column: Confidence cuts both ways for Shiffrin
Behind the Gold
Confidence is a core characteristic of champion athletes. When you take that deep breath at the start, tap your poles together and place them over the timing wand, having the confidence to attack the course ahead is a difference maker. But confidence can also bite you back. That was the case with Mikaela Shiffrin this weekend, finishing an uncharacteristic 11th in the opening Audi FIS Ski World Cup slalom in Levi, Finland.
A year ago, Shiffrin started defense of her slalom globe with a stunning 1.06 second win in Levi over the legendary Maria Hoefl-Riesch, of Germany. She took Lapland by storm, won a reindeer and stayed in the World Cup lead all the way through the finals, taking a second consecutive World Cup slalom title.
As she boarded the long flight for the three-day trip to Levi, there was no reason to think she wouldn’t win again. She was still riding a high from her debut giant slalom victory in Soelden. She had good training at Copper Mountain. All was right in her world.
As she pushed out into the fog on the Levi Black course as the fourth starter, she nailed the top flat and lit up the green light to take the lead. Then things changed. She was uncharacteristically conservative on the steep pitch. And she found herself 1.32 seconds behind leader Frida Hansdotter, of Sweden. A dozen skiers later, Tina Maze bumped the deficit to 1.71.
Pretty tough to overcome. Winning was now out of the question. Learning became the opportunity.
“The fact is, I came into this race thinking ‘I’m going to get another reindeer, and I’m skiing well in slalom,’” said the Olympic slalom champion. “I took the competition for granted. It’s a lesson to be learned for next time.”
Next time will come at home in Colorado when the Audi FIS Ski World Cup returns to Aspen for the Nature Valley Aspen Winternational Thanksgiving weekend.
A lot has changed since her debut World Cup season as a 16-year-old just three seasons earlier. Two years ago, at just 17, she was third to open the season in Levi, going on to win the crystal globe.
Today, though, she’s no longer the newcomer story. Mikaela Shiffrin is the target — the one everyone watches.
“Something that always worked for me was to feel like the underdog and come from behind,” she said. “Even if I was the favorite to win, I’d always come into races and do my best to ski my very fastest — not ski for the win — but ski for my fastest skiing and ski because I like to ski fast. That’s why I’m doing the sport.
“I have no excuses. No one to blame. My skiing just wasn’t fast.”
Mikaela is a student of her sport. She’s always learning. “I think Tina Maze, Frida Hansdotter, Kathrin Zettel and Maria Pietilae-Holmner did a really great job today,” she said.
“I’m going to go back and study their skiing and see what they did and I didn’t do.”
Mikaela Shiffrin left Levi without blame. She didn’t blame her equipment. She didn’t talk about course conditions. She even took time to post a thank you to Levi volunteers on her Facebook. This one was on her.
She will hit Aspen all the wiser — with confidence, along with better knowledge on how to use it.
One of the most experienced communications professionals in skiing, Tom Kelly is a veteran of eight Olympics and serves as vice president of communications for the Park City-based U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association. This column first appeared in the Park Record in Park City, Utah.