mikaela shiffrin

Lindsey Vonn, MIkaela Shiffrin
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Alpine skiing women’s World Cup season preview

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If the previous Alpine skiing season taught us anything, it’s that nobody is safe.

The three most decorated skiers all suffered knee injuries in crashes, missing part or all of the campaign.

Oct. 21: Austrian Anna Veith, the 2014 and 2015 World Cup overall champion, damages her right knee in a training crash, three days before the first race of the year. Veith misses the entire season.

Dec. 12: Mikaela Shiffrin, Olympic slalom champion, suffers right knee injuries in a light warm-up crash before a giant slalom in Sweden. Shiffrin misses two months of races, returning for the final month of the season.

Feb. 27: Lindsey Vonn, winner of 76 World Cup races, suffers three left knee fractures in a super-G crash in Andorra. Vonn’s season ends three weeks premature.

Swiss Lara Gut, once a teenage phenom who missed the 2010 Olympics due to preseason hip surgery, stayed healthy and captured her first World Cup overall title last March.

The versatile Gut won six races across four disciplines, but she also had the benefit of the absences of Veith, Shiffrin, Vonn and the other two top skiers from the year before — Slovenian Tina Maze and retired Austrian Nicole Hosp.

Of the aforementioned skiers, only Shiffrin will join Gut in the season-opening giant slalom in Soelden, Austria, on Saturday (NBC Sports app, 4 a.m. and 7 a.m. ET; Universal HD, 3 p.m. ET).

ALPINE SKIING: Men’s World Cup preview

Shiffrin eyes her first outright World Cup giant slalom victory, two years after sharing a Soelden win with Veith. Any Soelden podium place would boost Shiffrin’s bid to become an overall title contender by becoming more proficient in giant slalom and adding more speed races. Shiffrin is already on an 11-race slalom win streak.

Maze, 33 and a two-time 2014 Olympic gold medalist, plans to race at one World Cup stop this season, at home in Maribor, Slovenia, from Jan. 7-8, and then retire, according to European media.

Vonn and Veith are skipping Soelden for different reasons.

Vonn passed on Saturday’s giant slalom because she’s not going for the World Cup overall title this season, but rather for individual race victories. Vonn, who does not excel in giant slalom, is 10 wins shy of the World Cup career record of 86 held by Swedish legend Ingemar Stenmark. She is expected to focus on downhills and super-Gs.

Veith is the 2015 World champion in the giant slalom but simply isn’t race ready coming back from her injuries. She will also miss the next giant slalom on Nov. 26 in Killington, Vt., pushing her return to December, according to Austrian media.

Vonn hasn’t publicly committed to Killington and could, like Veith, wait for the first downhill and super-G races in December.

Everybody is looking ahead to the world championships in St. Moritz, Switzerland, in February. That event may be a bellwether for the 2018 Olympics, especially if Veith and Vonn are back up to speed to join Gut and Shiffrin.

Four years ago at worlds, Vonn crashed and then rushed her comeback, crashed again and ended up missing the 2014 Olympics. Maze and Shiffrin each took gold medals at the 2013 Worlds and then did so again at the Sochi Winter Games.

But if last season taught us anything, the Alpine skiing landscape can change quickly.

MORE: Vonn details weight struggles in new book

How Missy Franklin and Mikaela Shiffrin became friends

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Mikaela Shiffrin, covered in sweat from working out, gave a big hug to Missy Franklin when they met for the first time this summer.

“The moment I met Miki,” Franklin said, “I knew I had found a friend for life.”

Ever since the 2014 Winter Olympics, Shiffrin had heard that she reminded people of Franklin. Both are Colorado natives with bubbly personalities who won Olympic gold medals before turning 19. But since their offseasons don’t overlap, they were never in the same place at the same time.

The two Olympians finally met in person in August. After swimming at the 2016 Olympics, Franklin booked a vacation to Vail, Colo. to unwind with her family. A mutual friend, NBC Sports executive Brett Goodman, orchestrated the meeting after reminding Franklin that Shiffrin lives and skis in Vail.

Franklin and Shiffrin compared their training schedules. Shiffrin, who believed that she had long days when she woke up at 7 a.m., learned that Franklin regularly wakes up at 4 a.m. Franklin thought she travelled a lot for swimming until she heard about Shiffrin’s itinerary for the World Cup season.

They swapped stories about staying in the Olympic Village, as well as about walking on red carpets.

“I felt like we were laughing all night,” Shiffrin said. “She will make fun of herself and not take anything too seriously. That is the way I am as well.”

The night ended early, since they are both elite athletes. At about 9:00 p.m., Franklin decided that it was time to go back to her hotel room.

“I was psyched because finally I wasn’t the one needing to go to bed first,” Shiffrin said.

They now talk regularly on the phone and via social media.

“I found a friend and a person that is cut from the exact same cloth as I am,” Franklin said. “I know our friendship and time together will only grow.”

They are not sure when their schedules will align to meet again in person, but they have discussed doing yoga together.

Shiffrin is confident that their next interaction will not take place in a swimming pool.

“I would probably drown,” Shiffrin said, laughing. “I would get a treadmill and do my cardio while she is in the pool.”

MORE: Stronger Mikaela Shiffrin eyes new goals

Stronger Mikaela Shiffrin eyes new goals

ASPEN, CO - NOVEMBER 29:  Mikaela Shiffrin of the United States celebrates on the podium after winning the slalom during the Adui FIS Women's Alpine Ski World Cup at the Nature Valley Aspen Winternational on November 29, 2015 in Aspen, Colorado.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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A breathless Mikaela Shiffrin answered the phone and asked to push back an interview with NBC five minutes.

When she called back, she explained the brief delay.

“I’m so sorry,” she said. “I was at the gym and I was trying to finish one last set before we spoke.”

Strength training is a newfound priority for the 21-year-old skier.

Shiffrin has traditionally focused on the technical disciplines, slalom and giant slalom, which require agility for quick turning. Now she is expanding her portfolio to include the speed disciplines, super-G and downhill, which require isometric strength to hold the tuck position longer and deeper.

Shiffrin’s first priority this season remains competing in the technical disciplines, which she calls “my babies.” The 2014 Olympic slalom champion is looking to claim her fourth World Cup crystal globe in slalom this season.

Gaining experience in the speed disciplines is her second priority.

Shiffrin said she is “90% of the way there” with the speed disciplines, largely because of the extra time she spent in the gym. She suffered a knee injury last December that kept her out two months. Told to stay off her skis, Shiffrin focused on lifting weights.

“I’ve never been this strong,” said Shiffrin, who is “100% healthy” and not planning on wearing a knee brace this season. “Not that it is ideal to have to do conditioning in the middle of the winter, but I feel like that gave me a little bit of a head start for the summer conditioning months.”

To get the final “10% of the way there,” Shiffrin believes she needs to become more familiar with the terrain at speed races.

“For most of the annual spots where the girls ski every single year, I haven’t raced or even seen those hills,” Shiffrin said. “That’s where my confidence falters a little bit.”

Since the technical disciplines remain Shiffrin’s top priority, she will only enter speed races when it fits in her schedule. For example, she is undecided about racing in the season-opening speed event in Lake Louise, where downhill training starts just two days after a slalom race in Killington.

“I don’t want to sacrifice anything in Killington because I am stressed about getting to Lake Louise for the first training runs,” she said.

Shiffrin’s third priority is to contend for the overall World Cup title. To do so, she will need to “perform better than I ever have in every single [technical] race” and then get “bonus points” by performing well in super-G and downhill.

“I won’t know where I stand with the overall [crystal] globe until at least mid-season,” she said. “If I’m close, then maybe it will become more of a priority.”

The competition for the overall World Cup title is expected to be tougher this season than in 2015-2016, when Shiffrin believes “it definitely would have been possible” to challenge for the overall World Cup title had she not gotten injured.

Anna Veith and Lindsey Vonn are expected to return from injuries, along with the possible return from break of Tina Maze, to challenge last season’s World Cup overall champion, Lara Gut.

“Everybody is back,” Shiffrin said.

Vonn wrote on social media last month that she is not going for the World Cup overall title, but Shiffrin is not ruling her out.

“[Vonn] is going to be in contention for the overall as well, whether or not that is her goal,” Shiffrin said. “That is similar to where I’m at. It’s not my main goal, but it’s very possible that if I perform how I hope to in each event, it will be there.”

Vonn is known as the “Speed Queen,” with eight downhill and five super-G World Cup titles. But Shiffrin has not asked Vonn for advice about the speed disciplines, preferring to simply watch Vonn ski.

“That is advice enough,” Shiffrin said. “She doesn’t need to tell me anything.”

The World Cup season starts Oct. 22 in Soelden. The anticipation reminds Shiffrin of when she made her World Cup debut in 2011 at the age of 15.

“I was starting to feel like a veteran on slalom and getting there in giant slalom,” Shiffrin said. “But now that I’m starting to add more speed, I’m back to being the rookie again.”

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