Vail Daily’s Chris Freud: Three months to first ski race for Mikaela Shiffrin
VAIL — Liftoff is only three months away. On Oct. 26, Mikaela Shiffrin will click into her skis in Soelden, Austria, for the season-opening World Cup giant slalom.
How in the wide, wide world of sports do you follow up the season Shiffrin had in 2018-19? A record 17 World Cup wins, two more at the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships (super-G and slalom), 2,184 points in a season, her third World Cup championship, and discipline titles in super-G, GS and slalom.
Really, what’s next?
The exception to the rule
Well, here’s an interesting proposition. The 2019-20 season is the exception to the rule, the only season every four years without the world championships or an Olympics. That means a less condensed schedule since there are two extra weeks of racing.
For example, last year Shiffrin had a crazy stretch of schedule starting with her annual speed stop in Lake Louise, Alberta, where she ran two downhills and won the first super-G of her career.
From Nov. 30 to Jan. 8, 40 days, she started in 12 races scattered over Canada, Switzerland, France, Austria, Norway, Croatia and back to Austria. Shiffrin, being no slouch, won seven of those 12 races and essentially all but clinched the World Cup title.
For the record, her non-winning finishes during that time were ninth and fourth in the Canadian downhills, fifth in the Semmering, Austria, GS, and two seconds to Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova in slaloms. Not too bad at all.
In the same stretch during the 2019-20 season, Shiffrin will likely compete in just nine events — the three speed races in Lake Louise, super-G and parallel slalom in St. Moritz, Switzerland, a GS in Courcheval, France, GS and slalom in Lienz, France, and slalom in Zagreb, Croatia.
Shiffrin has been meticulous about keeping her schedule, sometimes to a fault according to Bode Miller and Lindsey Vonn during last year’s worlds in Are, Sweden, when both suggested she compete in all five events.
Shiffrin politely explained that she ramped up her schedule too much in anticipation of the 2018 Olympics in South Korea, and it affected her skiing. She added that she sets her schedule with the 2018 experience in mind and her results during the 2018-19 season bore that out.
Shiffrin won 19 of 29 starts between the World Cup and worlds last year in a condensed schedule. Is there potential for her to be better with a less-packed schedule in 2019-20?
When she gets some time off, she tends to come back with a vengeance. After winning the super-G last winter in Cortina, Italy, on Jan. 20, she skipped speed events in Garmisch, Germany. With 10 days off, she swept two tech events in Maribor, Slovenia, on consecutive days to start February.
After worlds in Are, she took two weeks off from the white circus and wrapped her season with a flourish, finishing third (GS), first (slalom), fourth (super-G at World Cup finals to clinch the globe) and first in both GS and slalom.
With two extra weeks for World Cup events, the schedule takes an interesting turn, starting in late January. Starting in Bansko, Bulgaria, on Jan. 25 to March 1, 2020, the World Cup has 12 events — 10 speed or Alpine combined and two tech events.
We’ll assume that Shiffrin is set to race GS and slalom in Maribor on Feb. 15-16 because she races every tech race. But that leaves five weekends of speed, which might be a convenient time for her to increase her repertoire.
There are four super-Gs during that stretch. It’s not a leap to see the defending super-G champion give those races a spin. There’s also the stop in Crans Montana, Switzerland, Feb. 22-23.
Shiffrin’s pattern of entering speed events seems to be based on experience at the venue. She started at Lake Louise in 2016 with top 20 finishes. By 2017 she won a downhill there and a super-G last winter. She eases in based on familiarity.
As her career has evolved, St. Moritz, Switzerland, and Cortina — both super-G wins last year — have become places where Shiffrin clearly has become more comfortable in speed. So how about Crans Montana?
In 2017, she ran super-G (13th) and won an Alpine combined there, so the 2020 stop there seems logical.
By the way, the 2020 World Cup finals are at Cortina, so there seems to be a lot of places and — more importantly, time — for Shiffrin to collect points during the upcoming season.
As we noted previously, Shiffrin ended up with 2,184 World Cup points in 2018-19, second all-time only to Slovenia’s Tina Maze (2,414) during the 2013-14 season.
During 2013-14, Maze started all 35 events on the schedule and told Shiffrin that, despite the results, it was a draining experience. Shiffrin has taken this to heart in spacing out her schedule.
But with no Olympics or worlds in 2019-20, this could be the year for Shiffrin to make a run at the magical 2,414 without running herself ragged.
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Resi Stiegler closed out her racing career on Friday by winning the season-ending women’s slalom at the U.S. Alpine Championships at Highlands. The three-time Olympian from Jackson was one of the more exuberant and loved U.S. skiers.