Mikaela Shiffrin chases higher goals as second Olympics approach

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After the finale of the 73-race World Cup Alpine skiing season in March, the winners of the men’s and women’s overall titles were brought together. They were handed crystal globe trophies and directed to pose for the cameras.

Those winners were Austrian Marcel Hirscher, who actually won crystal globes for the overall, giant slalom and slalom disciplines. And Mikaela Shiffrin, who took two crystal globes, for the overall and slalom.

It made for a very crowded photo shoot.

“He’s trying to juggle three different trophies,” Shiffrin (who actually learned to juggle and unicycle in elementary school) said in the spring, leading into this joke: “There’s nothing like standing next to Marcel Hirscher to make me feel like I didn’t do enough this season.”

She did plenty.

The Coloradoan clinched her first overall crown — the biggest annual prize in ski racing — four days after her 22nd birthday, making her the youngest champion in 14 years.

She became the fifth American to take the overall title since it was introduced in 1967 and won 11 of her 25 World Cup starts.

But Shiffrin always wants more.

In Sochi, in the early morning, bleary hours after becoming the youngest Olympic slalom champion, Shiffrin blurted out in a press conference that she dreamed of winning five gold medals in 2018.

She’s not retracting those words now. Five gold medals are certainly possible, though extremely improbable. The most gold medals any Alpine skier has won at a single Olympics is three.

“I believe in my ability, and I have a team around me that also believes in my ability, which allows me to stand behind that statement even if it was almost ignorant in a way,” Shiffrin said at a U.S. Olympic Committee media summit in Park City, Utah, two weeks ago.

The believers also included President Barack Obama, who embarrassed the skier by mentioning the five golds comment in front of more than 100 U.S. Olympic and Paralympic athletes at the Team USA White House visit after the Sochi Winter Games.

“It’s not all supposed to be saying, like, undervaluing what the other athletes are able to do, because there are a couple of other athletes out there who also could win in five events,” Shiffrin said.

Realistically, Shiffrin does not see five individual golds in PyeongChang. She’s targeting three, maybe four events.

Slalom, where she can become the first man or woman to repeat as Olympic champion.

Giant slalom, where Shiffrin finished fifth in Sochi and improved to a silver medal at the world championships last February.

Super combined. Shiffrin did not race the combined in Sochi (one downhill run plus one slalom run) but won her first World Cup combined last season (albeit a super-G, rather than downhill, and slalom).

Super-G is a maybe. Shiffrin has never won a super-G but will race it in PyeongChang if she can make the four-woman U.S. team and feels comfortable.

Downhill is unlikely. Shiffrin raced her first two World Cup downhills last season but does not consider herself a speed racer. Plus, the U.S. team is loaded with accomplished women in the event — Lindsey VonnJulia MancusoLaurenne RossJackie Wiles and Stacey Cook. Only four starting spots are available.

“If I can compete in four events, it’s because I think I have shot to win a medal in four events,” Shiffrin said in Park City. “Five might be biting off too much even though I did go on record saying I want five gold medals, I want the world and the king of the universe and all those things last Olympics.”

The focus first is on the World Cup, which begins with the traditional season-opening giant slalom in Soelden, Austria, two weeks from Saturday.

It will be a key indicator for one of Shiffrin’s next short-term goals — to become best in the world in giant slalom. Last season, only Tessa Worley of France was better than Shiffrin.

If she can wrestle the crown away from Worley this fall and winter, and retain her slalom and overall titles, Shiffrin will be the one juggling three crystal globes at photo shoots.

Those World Cup trophies, earned through five months of results, are better indicators of superiority than Olympic medals. They’re also several pounds heavier.

“The Olympic gold, it’s a really big event, but that race in it of itself, one gold medal, just means the same thing as a World Cup [race] win,” Shiffrin said in the spring. “You’re the best for that day. And then the next day that could change.”

Shiffrin could become the first woman since Swede Anja Paerson in 2004 to win the overall, giant slalom and slalom World Cup titles in one year. If she achieves that, it might be on to the next goal.

“Right now my impossible is winning races in every event in a single season,” she said in the spring.

Four skiers have done that — wins in downhill, super-G, giant slalom, slalom and combined in one season — Marc GirardelliPetra KronbergerJanica Kostelic and Tina Maze.

“I’m chasing that,” Shiffrin said. “I don’t know if I’ll ever get there.”

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