NEW YORK — Three days before Mikaela Shiffrin became the youngest Olympic slalom champion in February, she finished fifth in her first Olympic race, the giant slalom.
“She was almost crying,” Shiffrin’s mother, Eileen, told reporters the day her daughter missed the medals by .23 of a second (the podium finishers were all at least five years older than the American).
Shiffrin felt disappointed despite skiing about to her level, having placed second, third, sixth and eighth in four World Cup giant slalom races she had finished before the Olympics. She hoped she would notch her first top-level giant slalom win at the Olympics, though.
“Next Olympics,” Shiffrin said in Russia, “I’m sure as heck not getting fifth.”
Shiffrin didn’t break through in GS in the post-Olympic World Cup races in March, so she carries over her goals into the new season beginning next month.
Defend the World Cup slalom title. Win her first giant slalom race.
“And hopefully get a couple more [GS wins] after that,” she said in the lobby of a Midtown Manhattan hotel Wednesday afternoon. “I’m really hoping to try to separate myself a little bit in GS this year. It’s a tough event. A lot of people say it’s the hardest event because it’s a mix between slalom and super-G. It’s just tough.”
The 19-year-old said her training is more balanced going into her fourth season on tour.
“Before, if I had the choice to train slalom or GS, I always chose slalom,” said Shiffrin, who holds the three most prestigious titles in slalom, Olympic champion, World champion and World Cup champion. “Now, it’s like, all right, well my slalom feels pretty good, but I need work on GS, or it just depends upon how I feel.”
She recently finished a five-week technical events camp in New Zealand with U.S. teammates and feels in “more of a comfort zone” with GS, which requires more speed than the other technical discipline, slalom.
It’s all in preparation for the first event of the World Cup season, a giant slalom race in Soelden, Austria, on Oct. 25. Shiffrin heads to Europe three weeks before that.
If Shiffrin had to prioritize her goals — defending her World Cup slalom title and winning her first GS race — which would she prefer?
“That’s a tough one,” she said. “Last year, I would have chosen slalom. But I don’t think I’m going to have to choose this year. I think my slalom’s at a point where I’m really comfortable with where I’m at. I’m comfortable with that speed. It’s not a question whether I can put good skiing out there. It’s whether I’ll be hindered by ruts in the course or whatever it is. But in general my skiing is there. That level is there. That leaves a little bit more room for training GS, which is what I need to be able to race comfortably in GS.”
Shiffrin’s early giant slalom work this season will also go into determining if and when she makes her World Cup debut in a super-G race, the next level up in speed.
This season’s World Cup calendar doesn’t include any sites where the women race a super-G and a technical event on the same weekend before February’s World Championships in Beaver Creek and Vail, Colo.
“Hopefully, before World Champs, I’ll be able to squeeze in one or two super-Gs,” Shiffrin said. “We’re trying to figure out a way to make something work, but we’re just not sure where or when it would be.”
It won’t be in Lake Louise, Alberta, the first speed races of the season where Lindsey Vonn hopes to make her return from Dec. 5-7.
“I’m not a tucker yet,” Shiffrin said, smiling. “I’ve got to get some more meat packed on me before I can expect to do well there.”
Shiffrin will be expected to continue rising in giant slalom. Her spot atop slalom appears more assured, given Olympic silver medalist Marlies Schild retired last week.
“I guess it wasn’t really a surprise, but it’s still upsetting,” Shiffrin said of the Austrian Schild, one of her skiing idols, who overcame injury, age (32) and a sixth-place first run at the Olympics to swipe slalom silver. “She’s a legend, and I wanted to keep racing with her for a little longer. One of my goals was to succeed in slalom, and to win slaloms, but also one of my goals was to be able to race with her. I’m lucky I got an opportunity to do that.”
Shiffrin’s U.S. Ski Team coach, Roland Pfeifer, recently told SkiRacing.com that Shiffrin produced promising returns in summer training, cleaning up her skiing on a new GS ski.
“With the work we’ve put into it already and a little bit of fine-tuning in Europe heading into Soelden, it’s going to be exciting to see what she’s capable of,” Pfeifer told the website. “She will be better than last year.”