Shiffrin chases downhill speed in Cortina as the world talks about record chase
Special to the Vail Daily
CORTINA D’AMPEZZO, ITALY — Everybody and their Italian families are talking about the record this week in Cortina, except for Mikaela Shiffrin and her coaches. Shiffrin continues to let her performances do the talking this season, having charged to eight victories in 16 races entering the classic Italian Dolomites World Cup race weekend.
Quickly transitioning from her slalom skis to long boards, Shiffrin posted second- and fourth-place finishes in training runs on the 1.65-mile Olympia delle Tofane track Thursday.
All seems to bode well for what could amount to a record-breaking, 83rd World Cup victory in Italy, on a historic race hill that Shiffrin has prospered on.
“I feel really good on this track — I feel smooth and it was really fun to ski today,” Shiffrin said in the Cortina finish area, after a training run in which she finished 0.61 seconds behind Italian pace-setter Sofia Goggia. “I’ve had good runs, so it certainly makes me hopeful that I can be fast for the races.”
The 27-year-old phenom will have three opportunities over the next three days: downhills on Friday and Saturday, followed by a super-G on Sunday. If she can find the necessary speed to triumph on the familiar Italian track, she’ll break the current tie with former teammate Lindsey Vonn, both at 82 wins.
“Winning runs on this track are always really smooth, really aggressive and not always perfect, but always driving forward,” Shiffrin says. “I think I have the right tactic in mind, but the tough thing for me is really getting the right feeling on the long skis.
“Obviously, it’s such a different feeling from slalom and GS, but even from super-G. There’s one turn right after the Tofane Schuss that’s like a quadruple, 200-meter left turn and I don’t know what to do with that,” she says with a laugh.
“I’ll kind of over-ski some sections or add some turns, so the trick for me is to basically keep my skis pointed down the hill as much as I can and not add any slalom turns to it.”
Of Shiffrin’s 82 career World Cup wins, three have come in downhill. She has five wins in super-G, including a Cortina victory in 2019. She also nabbed a third-place downhill result in 2018, finishing behind Vonn and Goggia.
Shiffrin has thrived at the future 2026 Olympic Winter Games venue, having tallied four medals at the 2021 world championships — gold in Alpine combined, silver in giant slalom, and bronze in super-G and slalom.
Still, Shiffrin professes that she is not overly confident about achieving a magical 83rd World Cup victory in Cortina.
“Realistically, I don’t really see that victory coming this weekend,” Shiffrin says. “It’s always a step-by-step process, especially with downhill.”
Shiffrin shined at her most recent speed races in St. Moritz, Switzerland, last month. She sped to three top-six results, including a super-G victory.
“Basing it off St. Moritz, I don’t know if I have that extra bit of speed to win in downhill. But I can be close and for me, that’s really exciting and the super-G here is just so much fun.”
Impressive training run by “Bella” Wright
While the talk of the Italian town has certainly been centered around Shiffrin, her U.S. teammate Isabella Wright quickly grabbed attention, punching it into second in Thursday’s training run. The Utah racer, who also formerly trained in Aspen, crossed the line just 0.19 seconds behind Goggia, impressively kicking out of the 28th start position.
“I think I was a little more in race mode today and a little more dynamic,” Wright said. “Happy with the strong, solid skiing and looking to bring that into tomorrow.”
Wright’s World Cup career best is 10th, in a downhill in Crans Montana, Switzerland, last February. The 25-year-old racer praised Shiffrin and U.S. teammates for contributing to her newfound speed.
“I’ve learned so much from Mikaela and we really just feed off each other,” Wright said. “She has so much wisdom and can teach me so much. And same with my teammates Breezy (Johnson) and Keely Cashman. It’s nice to feel like the team can build off each other.”
“We all train well together and that’s what pushes us — it’s just all about putting the pieces together.”
Recipe for defeating the Italian favorite Goggia?
Shiffrin, who will start bib No. 21 in Friday’s downhill, is well aware that she will have to be mistake-free to outgun the fastest female downhillers, notably the 2018 Olympic gold medalist and three-time World Cup downhill champion Goggia.
“I know that I can ski the course cleaner, but I also know that everyone else can too,” Shiffrin said. “When you’re going up against Goggia, Curtoni or Gut-Behrami, it’s hard to fake it better than what they’re able to do basically, so we’ll see.”
Now a bonafide contender considering her excellent training result, Wright commended and aims to emulate what Goggia has showcased in the sport.
“I think what Sofia does so well is she pushes the limits of women’s ski racing and that’s always been one of my biggest goals — to continue to push this sport. She’s human like the rest of us, she can make mistakes,” Wright said. “What I think it will take for anyone to beat her, including myself, is to ski well and focus on your own game.”
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