Mikaela Shiffrin finds competitive fire for World Cup season
The Denver Post
She had her wisdom teeth pulled in April and was bedridden for two weeks. There was a spring training camp at Loveland Ski Area, an off-snow strength and conditioning block at the U.S. Ski Team training center in Park City, Utah, a five-week on-snow summer training camp in New Zealand and more strength and conditioning in Park City.
Alas, there was no vacation for Mikaela Shiffrin, a 19-year-old Olympic slalom champion who could have used one.
It wasn’t until early September in the final Park City stint that she finally was able to feel the fire growing for another season of racing she hopes will result in world championship medals at Beaver Creek in February less than 4 miles from her home in EagleVail.
“I had a little trouble handling the post-Olympic, like, all I wanted to do was go on vacation, do the things I felt like I deserved after working hard to get that medal,” Shiffrin said. “What I realized in those two weeks in Park City was that it’s an ongoing process. The work doesn’t just stop after I get the medal. I have to keep going. Maybe I’m not going to get a vacation. Maybe I’m not going to go to a beach for the next five years.
“But I get to do what I love as my profession, and it’s the thing I’m most passionate about. There’s so many things to be grateful for that I finally had this revelation.”
It came in a series of dinners with her mother, Eileen. Every night for two weeks, they watched a DVD compilation of the winning runs from the World Cup last season.
“That’s one of the things I’ve always loved to do, especially with her, because we have ongoing dialogues about skiing, what we see that the best skiers are doing that I’m not doing, and things I’m doing that they aren’t doing,” Shiffrin said. “Those two weeks were like a complete reset. I got a ton of sleep, I got my naps, I came out of those two weeks fully charged and ready to go.”
She made the most of it. In the season-opening World Cup race Oct. 25 in Soelden, Austria, Shiffrin scored her first victory in giant slalom. Having ruled slalom the past two seasons, she now seems poised to become a major player in GS, meaning she will go to Aspen on Nov. 29-30 with legitimate aspirations for two victories.
“She showed she has speed (in GS) now,” said Roland Pfeifer, who coaches the U.S. World Cup women in GS and slalom. “I’m totally satisfied that she is also going to shoot for the globe (World Cup title) in GS.”
The summer was not easy, though. She did what she was supposed to do in training, but not with a lot of enthusiasm.
“There was a period when I was just kind of doing it,” Shiffrin said. “I was falling into the trap I see a lot of athletes fall into where they go through the motions, they’re very ‘by the book,’ they do what they think they’re supposed to do and what everyone tells them to do, but they lose that passionate fire, that competitive spirit in the heart of a real champion.”
Watching that DVD with her mom, the fire burned anew, reminded how much she loves the sport.
“That revelation gave me an energy boost,” Shiffrin said. “There’s no place I’d rather be than on the mountain, improving my skiing, winning races. I would take that any day over getting a two-week vacation in Hawaii or Florida or wherever after getting an Olympic medal. I just had this weird epiphany, something I’d known all along, but just had to remind myself — why I’m doing this sport and why I love it.”
In the last world championships two years ago, Shiffrin took slalom gold. Now the Beaver Creek worlds (Feb. 2-15) are only 88 days away, although she will have 10-12 World Cup races before then.
“I am so excited. There’s an atmosphere here,” Shiffrin said from her family home in EagleVail. “There’s that early-season brisk air; you step outside and you have to catch your breath because it kind of freezes your throat. I absolutely love this time of year, and it really motivates me for everything coming up. One of those things is world championships in February. It’s not even a home-hill advantage. It’s an entire hometown advantage.”
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