Mikaela Shiffrin to focus only on World Cup technical events, at least for now
VAIL — Mikaela Shiffrin will not be racing this weekend when the women’s World Cup resumes with two super-Gs in St. Moritz, Switzerland.
According to NBC Sports, this decision is part of a game plan to focus on giant slalom and slalom in the early part of the season. The article went on to speculate that Shiffrin would also be passing on the speed stop in Val d’Isere, France, on Dec. 18-20.
This is good, people.
The NBC report brings up the salient fact that Shiffrin hasn’t competed in a speed World Cup since January. She also hasn’t been able to train it during the offseason. COVID-19 wrecked most of the travel for summer training to the Southern Hemisphere and places like Mount Hood, Oregon.
Then Shiffrin hurt her back about a week before the World Cup opener in Soelden, Austria, in October. Not only did that prevent her from competing at Soelden, but it also deprived her of more speed training.
One does want to be up to speed when careening down a mountain at 70 mph. Good thinking, Mikaela.
But let’s be honest: This is also a strategic withdrawal, and a good one. As Shiffrin returns to the World Cup after her father’s death in February and the onset of COVID in March and after a long summer, she’s following the KISS theory — keep it simple, Shiffrin.
Whether you’re the greatest skier in the world right now or an average Joe, when crisis strikes, it’s best to go back to basics. Shiffrin’s bread and butter, of course, is making turns.
Yes, she’s surprised and amazed us all with her ability to strap on speed skis and win six World Cups (two downhill and four super-Gs) and the 2019 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships super-G, but an athlete has to be on top of everything to do that. Shiffrin understandably isn’t at this moment.
By axing speed for at least December, Shiffrin’s giving herself more space on the schedule. That’s good for more tech training and some time for herself and/or with her mom, Eileen, with whom she’s traveling Europe. (And don’t underrate time with Mom. Mikaela, Eileen and older brother/son, Taylor will all help each other at certain points of this process. It’s what families do.)
Without speed, here’s her slate for the next month:
- Courcheval, France, two GS, Dec. 12-13.
- Semmering, Austria, GS and slalom, Dec. 28-29.
- Zagreb, Croatia, slalom, Jan. 3.
The next speed weekend is St. Anton, Austria, on Jan. 7-10. Do remember, however, that the Flachau, Austria, night slalom is Jan. 12, followed by a weekend of tech in Maribor, Slovenia, so don’t pencil in speed yet. She may skip St. Anton.
As we work our way through the schedule, please remember that this is a worlds year in Cortina, Italy. The GS is Feb. 18 and the slalom on Feb. 20. While we are about to talk about who might win the World Cup championships this season, winning worlds medals trumps the overall globe for Shiffrin.
One of the drawbacks of this race strategy, according to NBC, is that Shiffrin might not be able to compete for the overall crown with this schedule.
“It’s quite a bit less in my thoughts than it has been in years past,” Shiffrin said to NBC about the overall.
Yes, when you have three of them, you probably don’t need a fourth immediately, but is a World Cup title out of the question? No.
If Shiffrin is only going to do slalom and GS, it will make it harder, but not impossible. Tech skiers have an advantage in the chase for the overall simply because there are more giant slaloms and slaloms (19) than downhills and super-Gs (15).
Issue No. 2 is that there are no true all-discipline racers in the women’s field. Shiffrin was as close as anyone got to being a true all-arounder. Even with the premature halt to her 2019-20 season, Shiffrin was the only racer ranked in top 10 in all five disciplines — downhill, super-G, GS, slalom and parallel.
Even if she doesn’t click into a set of speed skis this season, she’s still got a shot at the overall. During the three seasons (2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19) she won the overall, Shiffrin could have won the title only with slalom and GS points.
Quite frankly, her decision not to ski speed initially is probably not as prohibitive to her World Cup title chances as the mere presence of Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova. Just like Shiffrin, her roots are in tech and Vlhova’s crushing it during the early going.
Vlhova was also successful in branching out into speed last year and we’ll have an eye on her this weekend with Shiffrin out of the field. Likely the best thing for Shiffrin is for anyone but Vlhova to win this weekend. (Seriously, the smart rooting interest for Shiffrin partisans is Switzerland’s Corinne Suter, who only races speed, while Vlhova finishes in the 20s. FYI, it is bad karma to root for a DNF, people.)
So, good call, Mikaela. Take your time and we’ll be ready for Courcheval.
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