A nervous, jittery Mikaela Shiffrin returned to racing Monday, two months after suffering the first knee injury of her career.
Did she come back too early from tearing an MCL and suffering a bone fracture in a Dec. 12 warm-up crash, her first time tumbling into fencing?
Why ski at all this winter, with no real hope of capturing her fourth straight World Cup slalom season title?
This is her job, Shiffrin has stressed, and she can’t afford to take extra time off.
And when the 20-year-old from Colorado got back into the start gate in Crans-Montana, Switzerland, on Monday morning, she went back to work.
“I came in today sort of blind,” Shiffrin said. “Close your eyes and go.”
Shiffrin won her sixth straight World Cup slalom race, in her first start in the discipline since Nov. 29.
She was .27 of a second better than the field in the morning run.
“I was nervous,” Shiffrin said between morning and afternoon runs. “It’s good to have my coaches and my mom and everybody here, and they’re all very reassuring. Until you know for sure you’re in there, it’s hard to not be nervous.”
She raced last in the afternoon, forced to navigate a course made slushy and rutted by the 29 women who went before her. That’s not uncommon for the world’s best slalom skier the last three years.
Fog also rolled in and out, but the mountain cleared for Shiffrin. She said having “a little bit” of visibility saved her.
“I haven’t skied in anything like that,” Shiffrin said in a finish-area interview. “I was like, here goes nothing.”
Shiffrin managed it well, crossing the finish line with .45 to spare to notch her 18th career World Cup victory.
Shiffrin, not known for exuberant celebrations, came to a stop and bowed her head into her gloves for a moment before being congratulated by second-place Nastasia Noens of France and third-place Marie-Michele Gagnon of Canada.
Shiffrin does not plan to race the next World Cup slalom, a parallel city event in Stockholm on Feb. 23. If she doesn’t contest it, she is mathematically eliminated from winning her fourth straight World Cup slalom season title.
Even if she does race Stockholm, a comeback to take the trophy (a crystal globe) after missing five slaloms would be extremely unlikely.
“The slalom globe’s out,” Shiffrin said in a press conference, laughing. “I think everybody’s wondering kind of what my goals are the rest of the season.”
The women’s World Cup season continues with a downhill and super-G in Italy this weekend.
After her win, Shiffrin said she may next race a super-G in Soldeu, Andorra, on Feb. 27, but focused more on the next giant slalom in Jasna, Slovakia, on March 6.
“I’m going to focus on [giant slalom] a little bit now, for a few days at least, and try to see how quickly I can get back the feeling in GS,” she said. “Jasna, see if I can get on the podium both races [the GS and a March 7 slalom]. For the rest of the season, I’m just looking to see how many points I can get overall, not necessarily in one single event.”