Vail’s Mikaela Shiffrin says she’ll ‘keep it simple’ for next year’s World Champs
Special to the Vail Daily
ARE, Sweden – Mikaela Shiffrin is finally able to take a deep breath.
After clinching her second straight World Cup overall and fifth slalom title last weekend, the Vail native celebrated her 23rd birthday and opted out of the final World Cup downhill race. She has instead made time to soak up the ambiance this week during World Cup Finals in Are, Sweden.
Although she is mustering some final reserves of energy for the last giant slalom and slalom races this weekend, she made time to step back and reflect a little bit as well as offer sage wisdom to young racers following in her footsteps.
“For sure I’m tired. There is no lying there,” she said Thursday. “Going to the Olympics — it’s such an incredible event. There’s so much inspiration involved, but it’s also two weeks of nonstop focus and always a level of stress that we don’t have normally.”
Although there is always stress for the top skier on the World Cup, especially this season when she attempted to compete in every discipline and was the athlete to beat, Shiffrin always found time to refresh or … as she is famously wont, to nap. But in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Shiffrin’s already packed Olympic plan became overloaded.
“On the World Cup, you kind of get to decompress after every race a little bit. At the Olympics, there’s no time for that,” she said. “I was hoping to race in more than three races, but I ended up not because of the schedule changes. It was still racing the first week, racing in the second week and always thinking, when will I have time to prepare for the next race? And will I ever have time to take a day off? I didn’t. That took a lot of energy.”
LOOKING FORWARD AND BACK
Shiffrin’s not about to put herself in that position again any time soon. Here in Are, home of the 2019 FIS World Alpine Ski Championships, Shiffrin foresees her plate not piling too high.
“I doubt that I’ll be racing in all the disciplines at World Champs,” she said. “Even thinking about that for the Olympics was a lot.”
Taking on downhill, super-G and combined along with slalom and GS threw her off psychologically to a certain degree.
“It changed a bit of my mentality for the whole season,” Shiffrin said, pinpointing the speed events in Cortina d’Ampezzo (Italy) as the moment of when things got to her head.
“When I think back, I think it was too much. I had some great performances there, but it took so much energy to learn a new track, to have three races like that. When I went back to the GS, I fell. Normally I don’t fall. For me, that was a sign that I was more tired than I should be … and overcommitting a little bit,” she said. “So I’m not planning to do something crazy at World Champs next year. I’m trying to keep it pretty simple. I could just do the slalom and GS and be totally good.”
ADVICE FOR THE NEXT GENERATION
With that in mind, while reflecting on her season and also on her career, Shiffrin had some words of advice for the young athletes that came to Are to compete in the 2018 Longines Future Ski Champions Race on Friday. The event is an effort by Longines, the official timekeeper of the World Cup, to support and nurture the next generation of great alpine racers. Longines invites the best U16 ski racer from 12 alpine nations to compete in a giant slalom race on the same slope used for the World Cup Finals. Shiffrin, a Longines ambassador, distributed bibs to the athletes Thursday evening before the race.
“The first message for the athletes in this Future Ski Champions Race is to enjoy being here,” she said. “Enjoy the experience of meeting each other. One thing I’ve absolutely loved about ski racing and the journey that ski racing has brought me on is meeting people, also experiencing new places and new cultures. We don’t have a huge opportunity to experience that because we’re always focused on racing. But you do get these little glimpses of incredible moments — walking around the city in Zagreb (Croatia) on our day off, being in Levi (Finland) and seeing the Northern Lights, being here in Are and it’s spring time but still freezing winter. There’s always something incredible you can take away everywhere you go. It will be great for their future in ski racing but also for their future in life.”
Her other piece of advice, a nugget of wisdom she herself embodies, is that the young athletes open themselves to inspiration.
“They’ll look back on this experience and say, ‘that was so incredible to go to these races, to meet some of my idols in ski racing, to be inspired like that.’ You take that inspiration with you. It is a versatile inspiration. It transcends sport into whatever you want to do with your life.”
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Had Hailey Swirbul decided against going to Europe, she would not have finished with a career-best result in Friday’s World Cup opener. Yes, there was a time, and not long ago, when the U.S. ski team member and Roaring Fork Valley native questioned her desire to put on a race bib.