Freud: Mikaela Shiffrin is watching her overall World Cup hopes fade and it’s OK
VAIL — Roughly one-third of the season is done — 11 of 32 World Cups completed — and Mikaela Shiffrin is third place in the overall points, 230 behind Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova (615) and a little more than 100 back of Switzerland’s Michelle Gisin.
This is where the casual race fan might start to think the sky is falling. At last check though, Wednesday was a beautiful day here in Happy Valley and the cerulean blue is properly in place.
First, let us give all the credit in the world to Vlhova. She is a brilliant skier who would be the Mikaela Shiffrin of her era — particularly in tech — were it not for the misfortune of being born in the same period in which Shiffrin also exists.
Even in 2018-19 when Shiffrin was pillaging and rampaging pretty much at will — 17 World Cup wins and 19 triumphs including golds at worlds in Are, Sweden — Vlhova still beat her four times — giant slalom in Semmering, Austria; a then-city event (what would now be called a parallel competition) in Oslo; the Flachau, Austria, slalom; and a GS in Spindleruv Mlyn in the Czech Republic.
If Vlhova can take Shiffrin when Mikaela is in her ridiculous happy zone, why are we surprised that the Slovakian is rolling when the American superstar is understandably not at her best this season?
We just called timeout: For the record, Shiffrin has competed in five World Cups this season and finished fifth, fourth, first, third and fourth. While she is not crushing everything in her path — for shame, Mikaela — she is still skiing superbly. OK, time’s back in.
Given the passing of her father last winter, the emergence of COVID-19 and the ensuing lack of offseason training in multiple disciplines, Shiffrin has said that she would not be contending for the overall this season. And she said it again after taking fourth at Sunday’s slalom — won by Vlhova — in Zagreb, Croatia.
“It’s motivating for me to want to get back into that fight (for the overall),“ Shiffrin told the Olympic Channel earlier this week. ”But it’s also right now, I think, a much healthier place for me to be not in that fight. So … just watching from the side.”
It’s about Cortina
As a journalist, I’d do a lot for Shiffrin’s cell phone. This is a way of saying I’m not in Shiffrin’s brain, but the following is an educated guess based on following her career meticulously, if not obsessively in a professional way.
The 2020-21 season for Shiffrin always was and remains all about the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in Cortina, Italy, in February.
Some time during the summer, Shiffrin and her brain trust acknowledged that Mikaela needed some space as befits a person who’s suffered a great loss.
As COVID-19 progressed, it was clear that Shiffrin wouldn’t be able to do her normal offseason training regimen even if she were up to it, and we totally support her not being up to it.
Given those facts, it’s not hard to see the Shiffrin camp saying, “We’re going to do tech this year because GS and slalom are where Mikaela is comfortable in an uncomfortable time. We’re racing tech with the goal of getting Mikaela to the top of her game for worlds.”
Please note that we did not write “win at worlds.” The goal is to ski her best because it’s not about the result, but the process with Shiffrin. The unspoken element in Shiffrin’s process is that if she’s getting to the place where she likes her skiing, the results are going to take care of themselves. Spoiler alert: If Shiffrin is skiing well, according to her standards, she’s going to win or come pretty darn close.
Shiffrin has obviously had her way in the slalom at worlds, winning in 2013, 2015, 2017 and 2019 at the biennial event. Madame obviously wants to make it five.
As for the worlds GS, this is a gold that is missing from the collection. Shiffrin has finished sixth, eighth, second and third in this race. Again, it’s all about process and making sure she’s skiing her best on Feb. 17 (GS) and Feb. 19 (slalom).
We probably forgot to mention that Shiffrin is the defending world champion in super-G as well. Yes, we keep on saying that Shiffrin is tech-focused this season, except for the fact that she told The Associated Press that she is considering some super-G training in advance of worlds.
She said she is looking at the last week of this month for some speed training. If you’re looking back in history, well, it does appear that Shiffrin won a World Cup super-G in Cortina on Jan. 20, 2019.
Hmm, interesting. Stay tuned.
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Winter sports practices were officially allowed to begin last week, Jan. 18, after the Colorado High School Activities Association was given a variance from the state’s health officials. Games were allowed to be played starting this week.