Shiffrin kicks off campaign for third successive World Cup title
Special to the Daily
SOELDEN, Austria — Wearing her stars-and-stripes helmet and a sleek-looking black speed suit with white trim, Mikaela Shiffrin lunged out of the Soelden, Austria, start gate confident and determined in her quest for a third consecutive overall World Cup title on Saturday.
Persistent snowfall and insufficient visibility on the Rettenbach glacier giant slalom course were only a minor hindrance for the 23-year-old Olympic giant slalom champion, now in her eighth season on tour.
Shiffrin’s morning run was far from perfect, but she elevated her game in the afternoon, demonstrating tenacity while fighting knee-rattling terrain on the precipitous Austrian piste. The Eagle-Vail resident was fast on the lower section, as she ascended from fourth to a third place podium finish, overtaking reigning World Cup giant slalom champion Viktoria Rebensburg.
“It was a tough day, but it’s amazing to be back on the podium and have a podium in my first race of the season,” Shiffrin said, after the traditional season-opening race.
Her performance gives her a 60-point start towards another overall title, in a race won by Tessa Worley of France.
“I don’t think there is one thing that I’m looking for, my goals are to perform in every race,” Shiffrin said, asked what she can accomplish this season. “Every race counts for the big globe, the small globes, so it’s time to turn it on.”
‘I don’t think she is beatable’
Shiffrin clinched her second large crystal globe last season in Ofterschwang, Germany, on March 9 with a third-place showing in a giant slalom. Never in doubt, it came in her first race following winning gold and silver medals at the Pyeongchang, South Korea, Olympics.
Her 1,773 World Cup points were 605 more than nearest challenger, Wendy Holdener of Switzerland. The enormous margin has left her opponents without an answer on how to dethrone the reigning queen of alpine skiing.
“It’s not my main goal — my priorities are slalom and giant slalom and if I’m at a really high level I will ski more speed,” Holdener said, in a tone indicating that knocking off Shiffrin is unrealistic. “I think I can beat her in slalom though.”
Even more disconcerting to Shiffrin’s rivals is that the technical specialist is quickly developing into the consummate all-around racer, a lost art in the current era of specialization. She could be the only ski racer, male or female, regularly racing in all four disciplines on the World Cup circuit.
“I don’t think she is beatable,” said Tina Weirather of Liechtenstein, sixth overall last season. “She is the best in slalom and is also capable of scoring in all disciplines, which no one else is, so it’s easy math.”
Shiffrin revealed her early season plan of attack.
“All disciplines, but not every single race — the plan is every slalom and GS like last year and some key speed races which I feel I can perform well in,” she said. “Of course, Lake Louise is on the program, which is going to be the busiest time of year.”
Shiffrin advised that she and her team will listen to her body, allowing for ample time to rest and recover as necessary. The grueling World Cup schedule consists of 40 races at 21 locations across 15 countries, running from present until mid-March. There are the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in Åre, Sweden, Feb. 5-17, 2019.
Her rapid success in alpine skiing’s most daring discipline last season cannot be overlooked. Shiffrin surprised many, including herself, speeding to her first World Cup downhill victory in Lake Louise, Alberta, on December 2, 2017, improving upon her third place finish one day earlier. She attained another downhill podium in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy in January.
“Watching every girl come down and not taking the lead from me, I was thinking this isn’t real,” Shiffrin said about the unexpected Lake Louise triumph. “The silliest thing was that I came away with the downhill leaders’ bib and had it until almost January with some downhill races cancelled. I was thinking this is ridiculous.”
Shiffrin, who has made her mark winning five slalom discipline titles and 2014 Olympic gold in Sochi, Russiam at the age of 19, has made it clear that she relishes the high speeds and adrenaline rush of downhill.
“Since I was a little girl, I wanted to be able to ski speed and win races, so (Lake Louise) was a stepping stone and incredible moment realizing that I could be a fast speed skier,” she said.
Michael Schineis, president of winter sports equipment for Atomic, the Austrian ski manufacturer that Shiffrin has cooperated with throughout her career, said she her potential is still untapped.
“From history, there is always a decade linked to a certain athlete,” Schineis said listing names like Ingemar Stenmark, Alberto Tomba, Hermann Maier, Marcel Hirscher, Bode Miller and Vreni Scheider. “Mikaela has the potential to not only win a few races, but also put her print on a certain decade.”
A third consecutive overall title for Shiffrin would equal her U.S. teammate Lindsey Vonn, who accomplished the feat between 2008-10. Other female skiers to also do so are Austrians Petra Kronberger, 1990-92, and Annemarie Moser-Proell, who claimed five in a row between 1971 and 1975.
Shiffrin said there is “no secret recipe” but staying focused, keeping fresh and making wise decisions will be the ingredients for cooking up another outstanding season.
“I think the most important factor is just to measure my energy throughout the every day — both my physical and mental energy,” she said.
“This year I have even a better understand — it’s a lot of skiing.”
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