Vail Daily’s Freud: How many Olympic skiing events does Shiffrin enter?
VAIL — Mikaela Shiffrin won fewer World Cups in a season (three) in 2020-21 than she did in the 2012-13 season (four). That’s good for some shock value and nothing more.
This year was cray-cray, as the kids say, or might have said, so we’re going to sum up the year, which technically started in February 2020.
Mikaela’s father dies and she returns home from competition. COVID-19 comes shutting down Mikaela from returning to tour during the end of the 2020 season. Mikaela does not have a normal offseason.
As such, she limits herself to tech events, which makes sense at the time. Has she lost “the edge,” or whatever makes her Mikaela? No. Having already won a giant slalom in Courchevel, France, in her fourth start, she throws down at the Flachau, Austria, night slalom. The world should be so lucky she lost her edge.
With world champs in Cortina, Italy, approaching, Mikaela does some super-G training. This could well be “The Moment” of the season. It goes well. She enters her first speed race since her father dies and finishes third at the worlds super-G, followed by a combined gold. She’s still good at speed apparently. Mikaela wins silver in GS in Cortina (excellent) and bronze in slalom (her streak at worlds was going to end some year, but she felt she could have skied much better).
Shiffrin finishes the season fourth overall (Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova) and second in both the GS (Italy’s Marta Bassino) and in slalom (Austria’s Katharina Liensberger). More importantly, even though there are no globes as souvenirs this year, Shiffrin has reminded everyone she’s still the one to beat.
Start the clock
The moment the 2020-21 season ended Sunday, the countdown to the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing began.
Remembering, of course, that Shiffrin is essentially a walking corporation heading into an Olympic year. When the rest of America pays attention to Alpine skiing, this is big financial season for her. We try to keep the money out of our coverage, but Shiffrin, already sponsored by Land Rover, Bose and Barilla, to name a few, is an athlete with a limited window for major-income earning and a beautiful, boring reputation, an invaluable commodity to corporations in a time of hyper-partisanship.
Her offseason is going to be spent taping commercials.
She’s also going to have to figure out a game plan for the Olympics, and this is what we have to watch. In the ramp up to 2018 in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Shiffrin started to add speed and took on too much.
Was she killing it with doing downhill and super-G in addition to the tech? Yes. But she also DNF’d in consecutive races in Cortina (super-G, Jan 21, 2018) and Kronplatz, Italy, (GS, Jan. 23, 2018). After finishing seventh, an awful result, in a GS in Lenzerheide, Switzerland, the last weekend of tech before the Olympics, Shiffrin DNF’s in a slalom.
Flashback for a moment: In Shiffrin’s first full year on tour, 2012-13, Croatia’s Tina Maze sets the all-time record for points in a World Cup season with 2,414. During that season, Maze tells Shffrin, according to the New York Times, that entering every race and the ensuing grind is killing her love for the sport.
After her third DNF in four starts — one of Shiffrin’s trademarks is that she doesn’t DNF; she has one DNF in a combined since that Lenzerheide DNF right before the Olympics on Jan. 28, 2018 — this is when she makes the decision: I’m not going down the Tina Maze path. I am going to ski what’s comfortable and no more.
After the 2018 Olympics in which weather forces the GS and slalom to be run on back-to-back days, she wins gold in GS, is fourth in the slalom because of the scheduling and also takes silver in the combined. Shiffrin stops trying to compete in everything.
It works brilliantly.
In her 50 World Cup or world championship starts following the 2018 Olympics, from March 9, 2018 (Ofterschwang, Germany, GS, third place) to Jan 26, 2020 (Bansko, Bulgaria, super-G, win, the weekend before her father’s death), she podiums 39 times, wins 25 races and her “bad” finishes are 10th-place results in downhills and super-Gs in Lake Louise, Alberta.
Have we learned from history?
As Shiffrin ramps up to the 2022 Olympics, she has to remember this experience. Based on her speed performances at worlds, we just want to unleash Shiffrin on the world in 2021-22 to see what havoc she can wreak. There will also be corporate pressure for Shiffrin to expand her schedule at the Olympics — NBC would ideally love her to enter all five events.
Don’t do it, Mikaela. Keep to your plan. It works. Shiffrin will obviously enter the GS and slalom. The perfect Olympic plan is her winning those two races. The only American to have won two golds in one Olympics is Andrea Mead Lawrence back in 1952. Ted Ligety and Shiffrin have two Olympic golds, but in different Olympiads. The other usual suspects of American skiing, Phil Mahre, Bode Miller and Lindsey Vonn, have won only one Olympic gold each over their careers.
Since tech is always at the end of the second week of the Olympics or worlds, Shiffrin should enter the super-G, traditionally the first of the five disciplines contested, because she clearly has talent for it and it doesn’t interfere with the bread and butter.
Does she try the Olympic downhill? Doubt it. She’s probably spreading herself too thin. This will not be a popular decision. Too bad.
The combined is the evil seductress when it comes to Olympics and/or future worlds. Even with just one run of tech in the modern format instead of two, slalom racers are the favorite. As she showed last month in Cortina, Shiffrin’s skill set is perfectly suited to a combined.
But does it add too much? Probably, but for the reasons we just stated, she’s gotta give it try. So put Mikaela down for four races in Beijing.
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Tahoe’s Lila Lapanja was able to navigate the quickly disappearing snow — which is hardly ideal for racing — on Wednesday to claim her first national title, winning the two-day combined at the U.S. Alpine Championships in Aspen.