Vail’s Mikaela Shiffrin says she is not ‘a record chaser’
Special to The Aspen Times
Mikaela Shiffrin has proven she can dominate in every discipline of ski racing, but as has been the case with all the accomplishments of her young career, she’s not getting a big head about it.
While everyone around her is talking about how she’s the only skier in history to win a World Cup race in all six existing disciplines (slalom, giant slalom, downhill, combined, parallel slalom and after her victory in Lake Louise, Alberta, earlier this month, super-G), she is quick to point out the practicality of the newly broken record.
“It’s an honor to be mentioned in the same sentence as some of the all-time greatest skiers — that’s very flattering. But in some ways I don’t think it’s comparable,” Shiffrin said on a conference call from Switzerland on Wednesday, before she won the ensuing weekend’s super-G and parallel slalom events in St. Moritz, Switzerland. “Me being able to be the only winner in all events comes with the asterisk that the city event wasn’t even an event when a lot of these guys were setting their records.”
Inspired by Bode
Only a handful of racers in history have been able to win in every race discipline before the “city event” (aka parallel slalom) was factored in, the most recent of those being Slovenian Tina Maze and also Bode Miller, who Shiffrin names as her key role model in mastering every type of alpine course.
“Bode Miller was one of my biggest inspirations all through growing up,” Shiffrin said. “He inspired me to pursue my goals and dreams in ski racing. The athletes who were able to switch from slalom one weekend and then go to speed races and bring style and (speed) in everything they did was so inspiring to me.”
Slalom was Shiffrin’s key focus when she started out on the World Cup in 2011-12, a focus that has resulted in five World Cup slalom globes, three FIS Alpine World Ski Championship golds and becoming the youngest Olympic slalom champion in history at age 18. She narrowly missed the medals in slalom at last year’s Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, (winning gold in giant slalom and silver in combined) and handily won the first slalom of the 2018-19 season last month in Levi, Finland. It was her 34th victory in the discipline, meaning she is closing in and likely to usurp all-time winningest women’s slalom skier Marlies Schild, who had 35 wins. But in Shiffrin’s mind, regardless of how many more wins she gets, Schild will always be the best.
“All signs point to the fact that I’ll probably break the slalom record this season. If that does happen, OK … on paper, I’ll hold the record. But for me, she will always be the greatest ever slalom skier. She pioneered her own style of slalom skiing. She made it possible for me to ski slalom the way I do,” Shiffrin said.
Also, the 23-year-old Shiffrin, who clinched the World Cup overall title the past two seasons, has not-so-secretly been working toward being an all-around skier at every opportunity for many years.
“It’s been a work in progress since I started ski racing, definitely since starting on the World Cup,” she said. “I’ve been doing a speed camp in Mammoth (California) every spring, in Chile every fall … working on speed fundamentals whenever I had the chance with the hope that at some point, I’d be able to win in all disciplines.”
As any all-discipline racer can attest, switching gears between tech and speed from week-to-week is not only a physical challenge.
“The mental side of speed versus tech is different … last season I realized how different,” she said. “In tech, having two runs in the race, you have this whole level of focus all day. You’re waking up earlier, doing inspection, first runs, handling this whole process of where you are after the first run — if you’re in the lead, in first place, in 10th place. I have to completely regroup and figure out how to manage that for the second run. I end up treating that like a completely different race. Speed is much more leisurely scheduled. Everybody is getting out on the hill at 8:30, 9 o’clock. You have to be kind of chilling throughout the entire day. You have to ramp up the intensity and keep that chill mindset. In tech, you have to push hard throughout the race, but in speed that doesn’t always play out. Normally it’s the person smoothest on their skis (who wins). It’s like water rolling down the hill. For sure, that’s an adjustment.”
It’s an adjustment that Shiffrin has now proven she can make with the greatest success. However, now that she holds the record of being the only skier to win in all current disciplines, setting out to break more records is not among her goals.
“That’s the trick with sports and with ski racing; everyone has a different definition of what it means to be the greatest. Is it a record? Is it a technique? On paper you can’t argue with it. It’s amazing to hold those records, but I don’t consider myself a record chaser,” Shiffrin said. “The point with me was not to be the best in all disciplines, but to be one of the people in the starting gate everyone is watching and knows can win, that I have the ability. That’s where I’m at now.”
All told, there’s no question that Shiffrin is now, officially, living the dream.
“I’ve been able to succeed and realize the dream. Now I have to continue to work for it,” she said. “The dream is still there, it’s not like it’s done. That hunger is still in me.”
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